It should come as no surprise that Maryland’s horsemen would favor the recommended replacement of 148-year-old Pimlico Race Course, which has been in disrepair and its future under discussion for decades.
“It would certainly be yet another step in the right direction, for sure,” said trainer Michael Trombetta, the leading money winner at Laurel Park this season. “I think we’re going to continue to race and be on the upswing whether that happens or not, but if that happened it would only bring about more interest and everybody would like to be a part of something that’s new and as nice as what that could be.”
The report is so fresh that the particulars are still being digested, but the recommendation that the dirt and turf tracks be reconfigured — and the dirt track shortened from a mile to 15/16 of a mile — doesn’t bother Trombetta.
“I guess of all the things that could and couldn’t happen, that would be one of the lesser problems,’’ he said Thursday. “I can’t imagine just making it a tiny bit smaller would be a deal-breaker by any means. They’re talking about shortening it by a sixteenth of a mile. I’m not so sure that anybody would even notice that, to be honest.”
Josh Pons, co-owner of the 85-year-old Country Life Farm just east of Baltimore, considers himself old school and recognizes there is a certain sense of romance associated with such a venerable and historic local landmark.
“There definitely is, but I’m not a romantic,’’ Pons said. “I’m a realist and I see what historic venues mean to the sport. Even in the tearing down of Memorial Stadium, they built back a completely baseball-friendly baseball stadium.
“Pimlico is the victim of 75 years of deferred maintenance. The clubhouse burns down, they make a parking lot out of it. They put a 20-foot-by-20-foot replica up, and they think that’s paying attention to history. It’s not. You’ve got to overcome decades of indifference and shoe-string fixes to the place.”
Pons knows that the odds are long on anyone coming up with $424 million to redevelop the entire racetrack footprint and pay for the public infrastructure that has to come along with that, but he’s seen plenty of long shots come in before.
“It’s just an opportunity that needs to get figured out by some leader, working in conjunction with the Stronach Group,” he said. “The realist in me says that it’s a very difficult goal to achieve. The Marylander in me says it’s worth trying.
“I don’t know what it would take for [the Stronach Group] to keep their feet planted in Baltimore, but I’m of the old school that thinks, sort of like that [Bruce] Springsteen song, ‘where everything that dies someday comes back.’ ”
The project, if ever completed, would not only dramatically transform Pimlico and the area around it but also change the face of racing in Maryland by potentially increasing the number of racing dates there along with the introduction of other sporting and entertainment events at the new facility.
“They would certainly take another look at that, for sure,’’ Trombetta said. “I would guess those conversations would happen before they put a shovel in the ground. Right now, it’s 160-some days to 12. That’s just a product of all the years of the facility not being able to do what it was meant to do.”
Pons said he’s holding out hope that all the sides come together to redevelop Pimlico and guarantee the Preakness remains in Baltimore forever.
“It’s amazing what creative people can do,’’ he said. “I was born in Baltimore. We all grew up going to the infield and then graduating to the grandstand. Those historic sporting events, they don’t make any more of those. You can’t create something as internationally famous as The Preakness. Not to do everything you can to become a good citizen of Baltimore and help rejuvenate it … there just has to be political will and personal will to dig in and make it work.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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