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Stronach Group disputes Mayor Catherine Pugh's claim that there was a plan to keep Preakness in Baltimore

The company that owns Pimlico Race Course disputed Mayor Catherine Pugh's claim that she had worked out a plan with its executives to keep the Preakness Stakes at the Baltimore track.

Pugh told members of the Legislative Black Caucus Thursday that her team had met with officials from the Stronach Group and thought they had worked out a way to maintain the signature race at Pimlico.

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She said Stronach “walked away from negotiations.”

When pressed by reporters afterward, Pugh declined to offer any details.

“We actually had a group go down and meet with the Stronachs a few weeks ago and we thought we had a deal and we get back and there’s no deal,” Pugh told reporters.

The Stronach Group said there was never a deal.

“The Stronach Group has in fact met with Mayor Pugh and City officials on multiple occasions — including a meeting in the Mayor’s office on January 22 — but at no point in time was a proposal presented or discussed that had any feasible financial plans for the City, State or for the thoroughbred racing industry,” the company said in a statement issued to The Baltimore Sun.

Pugh and Baltimore lawmakers have been working to block a state bill that would help Stronach accelerate its plans to turn the company’s Laurel Park into a “super track” capable of hosting major races — which some fear includes the Preakness, the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Under the bill, the state could issue $80 million worth of bonds to finance renovations at Laurel, which would be paid back with money from slot machine revenues that’s earmarked for improvements to the state’s race tracks.

As the mayor tries to block that bill, she’s supporting another bill that would create a work group to discuss how to fund renovations at Pimlico.

The Maryland Stadium Authority drew up an ambitious, $424 million redevelopment proposal for Pimlico that includes a renovated track and other development. But the study did not suggest a way to pay for it. Stronach officials have made clear that they plan to continue to focus most of their investment — including state subsidies — on improving Laurel, not Pimlico.

Both bills — the one to help Laurel and the one to study Pimlico — have stalled in the General Assembly, where there are only about two weeks left in the 90-day session.

Baltimore’s lawmakers have urged legislative leaders not to pass the bill that would accelerate the Laurel renovations. They also asked that any legislation include protections to make sure that the Pimlico property does not become a blight on the neighborhood if the race track shuts down.

More than half of Baltimore County’s delegates signed a letter this week backing the city’s position.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, in an interview Friday afternoon, said he is “very concerned” about the bill that would help Laurel.

“You don’t take an asset out of one part of Maryland for another, particularly as important as the Preakness is to Baltimore City,” said Cardin, a Democrat. He said any move of the Preakness “is something we have to stop.”

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“The state has a responsibility to make sure the Preakness stays in Baltimore,” he said.

Pugh also filed a lawsuit this week attempting to block Stronach from any attempt to move the Preakness out of Baltimore. The company has committed to running the race at Pimlico in 2019 and 2020.

The lawsuit also aims to prevent the state from issuing any bonds for the Laurel improvements and asks a judge to award ownership of the track and the race to the city government through condemnation.

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