The need for repairs at Pimlico Race Course became obvious less than five hours after gates opened Saturday welcoming Preakness Stakes attendees. Nearly all the women’s restrooms were closed for water issues, custodians told those in line.
Marty Arnold, dismayed by the closed women’s restrooms in Pimlico’s grandstand, said the problems were just as bad during Black-Eyed Susan Day.
“It was a disaster,” she said.
Arnold and her friends said Pimlico workers said they were having plumbing and water woes. They said one bathroom remained open and workers encouraged them to use the men’s room.
“But even then, the men were coming out and telling us not to go in there, it was that bad,” Arnold said.
In responding to the complaints, representatives of track ownership repeatedly referred to the age of the 149-year-old Pimlico course. City officials who are seeking to keep the Preakness at Pimlico previously have pointed to a lack of maintenance, not the track’s age, as the culprit in its disrepair.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group that owns Pimlico, addressed the future of the track even as his staff worked to fix the plumbing problems plaguing the facility on Maryland’s most important racing day.
“It gets tougher every year to give the experience that the customer deserves for an event like this,” he said, explaining that a pipe broke outside the track several days ago, creating lingering problems with water pressure. “It’s just old infrastructure, and we do everything we can to keep it up to the level we can.”
In a statement regarding the bathrooms, the Maryland Jockey Club said the water pressure was fixed around 5:30 p.m.
“The plumbing issues are related to the high volume of usage, but water has been restored. We apologize for the inconvenience to our guests. These types of incidents are unfortunate when dealing with the aging infrastructure of a 100+ [years old] facility.”
Bathroom closings have been an issue at Preakness in past years. Because of outdated electrical, plumbing, and other infrastructure, more substantial renovations at Pimlico could not be undertaken without triggering the need to bring the entire building up to city codes. Even minor changes to the building could result in tens of millions of dollars of added costs, company officials said in February.
Dawn Siecker has been coming to Preakness for the past 10 years and said Saturday’s issues were the worst she has ever seen.
“It makes me upset,” she said. “It’s just sad when this is the state of the racetrack.”
Siecker, who also attended Black-Eyed Susan Day, said the water completely broke on the first level Friday and the toilets overflowed, spewing water everywhere, all at the same time.
Siecker said she wished more money had been put into the track to try and fix the issues.
“This stuff didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “The grandstands, the toilets — they didn’t just randomly start crumbling and breaking.”
She hoped money will be put back into the Baltimore track because moving it to Laurel — or somewhere else — wouldn’t be the same.
“It’s not Baltimore, and it’s not tradition.”
The Canadian-based Stronach Group has expressed interest in moving the Preakness Stakes to its Laurel Park facility, some 30 miles away. Baltimore Sun reporting revealed in February that Stronach has spent the majority of the state aid it receives for track improvements on Laurel Park since 2013.
At the same time, the Pimlico facilities have been showing signs of serious disrepair. An engineering firm determined in April that 6,670 seats in the Old Grandstand’s open-air section — the last remaining historic section of Pimlico — were “no longer suitable to sustain that level of load bearing weight.”
On Saturday, Nancy Baumgartner fumed as she waited in line.
“We’re really ticked,” she said. “I had to come from the third floor cause the second floor is closed.”
“It’s a disgrace,” said Maureen Code, of New Jersey, as she emerged from a third floor men’s room that a few women patrons had begun using. “I just drove 360 miles to come to this race. ... This is a real health hazard.”
And then the toilets in that bathroom stopped flushing too.
Gwendolyn Austin, 53, of Frederick, ventured inside the main building to look for a restroom but once she finally found one, the line was incredibly long.
“There’s too many people for them to not be able to provide toilets,” she said.
Upset she couldn’t use the bathroom, she said this is the exact reason Preakness is being moved to Laurel.
“I would rather they move it to Laurel. However I feel like Baltimore people need something like this in their community,” she said. “They should do whatever they can to keep it here. But when you pay $270, you should be able to use the bathrooms, eat good food and enjoy the races. Now I’m gonna have to hold it.”
This was Austin’s third time attending Preakness. At the end of the day she said she shouldn’t complain because she had already won about $500.
Baltimore Sun reporters McKenna Oxenden, Lillian Reed, Christina Tkacik, Thalia Juarez and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.