The Preakness Stakes — which Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has called the city's "Super Bowl” — might be leaving town. Here is a primer on how that happened and where things stand.
How did we get to where the owners of Pimlico Race Course are talking about a "super track" at Laurel Park, effectively leaving Pimlico out of the horse racing mix?
The Stronach Group's concerns about Pimlico's condition have been building for some time. The Canadian conglomerate has said, in increasingly blunt terms, that it's not worth spending more than $400 million to rebuild a track that stages just 12 racing days a year, including the prestigious Preakness.
Pimlico is 149 years old. It hosted Seabiscuit upsetting War Admiral in 1938 and Secretariat overwhelming the Preakness field in 1973. But vast sections have a patched-together, industrial look. There are mismatched colors and materials. The clubhouse — where high-end guests dine — has not undergone significant renovation since it was constructed decades ago.
"The Pimlico facility has reached the end of its useful life as a major event venue," Stronach executive Tim Ritvo wrote in a recent letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and General Assembly leaders.
Last year, Ritvo said Stronach was committed to holding the Preakness at Pimlico in 2019. This year's race is May 18.
After that, all bets are off.
But wasn't the city encouraged by a Maryland Stadium Authority-funded study in December that proposed replacing Pimlico with a stylish new track?
The city enthusiastically endorsed the study's proposal to rebuild Pimlico with a four-level clubhouse and plaza area and a new track and infield positioned to open the site further to the public.
The proposal met the city's objectives of not only keeping the Preakness in Baltimore, but also opening Pimlico's amenities to the surrounding community year-round and encouraging development in a distressed area of Baltimore.
But — and this is key — the study found $424 million is needed for the racetrack project, about $100 million higher than earlier estimates. No one seems prepared to commit to paying such a sizable tab.
Is there any possibility of a public-private partnership to rebuild Pimlico?
The study suggested that city and state officials and The Stronach Group enter into formal negotiations about Pimlico.
But, if anything, the city and the track owners have moved further apart.
That was evident when the mayor — in her own letter to Hogan and legislative leaders Friday — forcefully argued against the state assisting Stronach in Laurel's renovation. Stronach-owned Laurel runs 168 racing days a year.
Pugh argued that “allowing a wealthy family from another country to use Maryland tax money for a racetrack to have as their anchor for the development of their 300-acre site in Laurel would be a travesty.”
Has the dispute gotten … personal?
In her letter, Pugh alluded to a simmering Stronach family feud.
“Their company is in disarray, with father, daughter and now granddaughter suing one another in multiple lawsuits,” she wrote.
The company responded in a statement that Stronach is “extremely disappointed with Mayor Pugh’s recent letter” and said its horse racing business is “strong and getting stronger.”
In October, a lawsuit Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach filed against his daughter, Belinda Stronach, revealed an explosive power struggle and spending dispute between the patriarch and his heir.
Isn't the Preakness required to be run in Baltimore?
State law says the race can be moved to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency," so the Stronach Group would need legislative support to move the Preakness to Laurel.