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Stronach proposes $40 million improvement to Bowie Training Center, $80 million for Laurel Park

rpacella@capgaznews.com

The chief operating officer of the Stronach Group said Wednesday that it wants to invest $80 million to make Laurel Park a world-class facility and $40 million to do the same at the Bowie Training Center — the latest move suggesting Preakness may move to Laurel Park.

In recent years, the Stronach Group has invested tens of millions of dollars into Laurel Park, building two 150-stall barns on the backstretch, replacing old televisions with 850 sleek flat screens, adding new bars and concession stands and painting the walls. Proposals to host the Breeders Cup at Laurel as early as 2020 have also been made. The Breeders Cup is the most lucrative two-day event in thoroughbred racing.

Tim Ritvo said his company is willing to put up $60 million for improvements to the two courses but funding the remaining $60 million is contingent upon a bill before the General Assembly this session.

Legislation sponsored by Anne Arundel Del. Mark Chang and co-sponsored by Bowie-area representative Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith in the house, with matching legislation from Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters in the Senate, would add the Bowie center to a list of facilities that can benefit from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account. Maryland casinos pay 1 percent of their proceeds into that account.

Valentino-Smith said Wednesday she is encouraging Stronach to brief the public on the situation and create a process for residents to stay up-to-date on developments.

“Our position is to make sure there are sufficient funds to make it a first-class operation,” she said. “The debate about whether the Preakness stays or moves will take place in the full General Assembly.”

Ritvo sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch on Feb. 8 saying a “supertrack” at its property in Laurel and a training center in Bowie is the best way forward for the horse racing industry. Pimlico is at the end of its life as an event venue, he wrote.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh rebuked his letter with her own on Feb. 15, saying Pimlico would be left a vacant lot if that happened and questioning the company’s ability to invest in Bowie and Laurel as promised.

Ritvo said renovations at Bowie aren’t contingent on the Preakness moving to Laurel.

His vision is horses training in Bowie and at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, with races run in Laurel, providing options for trainers coming from the north or the south. A study released by the Maryland Stadium Authority said it would cost $424 million to demolish and rebuild Pimlico; and those plans don’t include stabling, so the training center would be needed in that scenario, he said.

The bill also allows the casino money to go to the Maryland Economic Development Corporation, which can then enter an agreement with Stronach and help secure bonds or financing — as long as Stronach pays for half.

The bill also requires that the plans for capital improvements at both Bowie and Laurel be approved by the State Racing Commission, and allows the corporation to monitor the implementation of those plans.

Through the bill, HB 990, Ritvo wants to secure $40 million to improve Bowie and $80 million to improve Laurel — half of which Stronach would pay for.

If approved he said improvements at Bowie would begin right away.

Valentino-Smith is also the lead sponsor on HB 1070, that would add Bowie to the list of Racetrack Facility Renewal Account beneficiaries, but doesn’t add the Maryland Economic Development Corporation mechanism. If HB 990 fails, HB 1070 would still provide access to the casino money for improvements.

In Florida, The Stronach Group owns a 300-acre training facility called Palm Meadows, with a turf track, main track, jogging track, 40 barns with 36 stalls each, employee housing, sand rings and more.

More than a thousand miles away in Bowie, the 140-acre training facility that closed in 2015 and track closed in 1985 sits vacant, with neighbors complaining about its appearance. Stronach said the funding will allow them to build something similar to Palm Meadows in Bowie. There would be new barns, and possibly a community cafe where people could get breakfast in the morning and watch the horses train.

He also envisions an equine health center where the world’s best could go for treatment.

“For the love of horses, there’s no place like here,” Ritvo said.

He said they will continue to maintain the property in the interim.

“It needs some work, we admit that,” he said. “We’re willing to put that work into it at a big number.”

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