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Preakness will remain at Pimlico at least through 2020 as owner seeks to ready Laurel 'super track'

The Preakness Stakes will remain at Pimlico Race Course at least through 2020 as the track’s owner seeks to ready a “super track” at Laurel Park that could host the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown in the future.

The owner of the race and the 149-year-old Pimlico track said Wednesday that Laurel Park would not be ready to host the Preakness in 2020 — even if the General Assembly approved a change of venue.

“It has to be run [at Pimlico] this year. It has to be run there next year,” said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group’s racing division.

“We couldn’t hold the Preakness at Laurel in the condition it’s in. It needs the upgrades,” Ritvo said in an interview.

State law says the Preakness can be moved from Pimlico to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency," so the company would need legislative support to move the Preakness to Laurel on any other basis.

This year’s Preakness is May 18. Until now, it was uncertain what The Stronach Group’s plans were beyond 2019 — other than the company’s often-stated desire to move the race to Laurel at some point in the future.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that her only response to the news was that she looks forward to participating in a proposed work group to study Pimlico’s long-term outlook.

A study funded by the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Stronach-owned Maryland Jockey Club, the Baltimore Development Corp. and the city of Baltimore said in December that Pimlico would need to be demolished and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million to continue hosting Preakness. It also said that realignment of the tracks and infield could encourage such private development as a supermarket, a hotel, townhouses, shops, an expanded LifeBridge Health medical campus and other amenities

The mayor intends to testify Friday in Annapolis in support of a bill that would require Stronach officials to participate in the work group.

“Our focus will be on keeping the Preakness at its home in Baltimore,” Pugh said.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat whose district includes Pimlico, said he’s also concentrating on moving forward with “a joint effort” to make Pimlico a viable option.

During tours Wednesday of Laurel and Pimlico, Ritvo outlined plans for a major upgrade of Laurel, including the construction of “sky suites” that he said could command $2,000 to $4,000 per person for marquee races such as the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup.

A Preakness at Laurel would be expected to attract about 75,000 to 80,000 people compared to the 130,000-plus who attend at Pimlico. But Ritvo said a race relocated to Laurel would be expected to generate more revenue because it would be a more “elevated" event with higher admissions prices, particularly for premium seats. It would include a corporate village and concert stage, but would not host fans in the infield because at Laurel, that area is a protected wetland.

The Stronach Group is pushing legislation in the General Assembly that would enable the Maryland Economic Development Corporation to issue bonds worth $120 million to finance $80 million in improvements to Laurel and $40 million for a training center at the former Bowie Race Course.

Stronach has said, in increasingly blunt terms, that it's not worth spending more than $400 million to rebuild Pimlico, which stages just 12 racing days a year. But Baltimore elected officials have criticized the track owner for investing the vast majority of its state racetrack renovation subsidies into Laurel.

It remains uncertain if and when any move of the Preakness to Laurel — about 29 miles away — could occur.

Guests touring Pimlico on Wednesday saw cracked glass in the grandstand above a large puddle of rust-colored water on the tile floor.

“The old girl, she’s functional,” Ritvo said. “But if it was a Las Vegas hotel, it would already be blown up and you’d have a new one.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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