The chairman of the Stronach Group offered no assurances Thursday that the Preakness will remain at Pimlico Race Course long-term, though she did say the company will do everything it can to ensure the race remains a successful event in Maryland.
"I think we're working with the industry and the local community to decide what's best," said Belinda Stronach, whose father, Frank, founded the company that owns Pimlico and Laurel Park.
Stronach Group officials have suggested the possibility of moving the state's largest sporting event to their refurbished track in Laurel. The issue is in limbo as the Maryland Stadium Authority prepares to study the future of the race and of the outdated facilities at Pimlico. That process is expected to last about a year.
The Stronach Group has pledged to help with the study.
"The good thing is that everyone now agrees we can't just keep kicking the can down the road with the current facility," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for Stronach's racing division.
Meanwhile, Ritvo said he's planning a formal pitch to attract the Breeders' Cup — the richest event in American racing — to Laurel Park as soon as 2019.
"We're about ready to make a serious bid," Ritvo said. "We just think it's great for the state of Maryland. It's a perfect time. Frank [Stronach] built an unbelievable turf course there that's world-renowned. I just think it all fits with the renovations we're doing, trying to revitalize Maryland."
The two-day racing extravaganza, which pays $26 million in total purses and awards, will be held at Santa Anita Park this year, Del Mar in 2017 and Churchill Downs in 2018. But Ritvo said Breeders' Cup officials signaled a willingness to go to a smaller facility by holding last year's event at Keeneland, where the Saturday crowd was 50,155.
He said Laurel would likely expand its seating capacity to about 70,000 from the current 35,000-40,000 if the event comes to Maryland. He called it "another level" in the massive renovation that's already begun at Laurel Park.
"It would be a two-year plan," Ritvo said. "We'd have to guarantee, show them."
Breeders' Cup officials announced in April that the 2018 event would go to Churchill Downs, so any decision on 2019 is likely to be almost a year away.
Ritvo and Belinda Stronach discussed their future plans at a news conference to announce they've sold 12 entries for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Horsemen who bought the $1 million spots, including Nyquist's owner Paul Reddam, will be eligible for the $7 million winning prize and to share in sponsorship and other revenue.
"We in the Stronach Group believe this can be an industry game changer," Stronach said.
She added that if the first-time event is successful, the company would consider staging similarly modeled races in other locations, including Maryland.
She made the announcement from the lavish hospitality tent the company has erected in the Preakness infield, which features rustic antique furniture, framed paintings of horses and jockeys, a pebbled outdoor courtyard and a polished wooden bar.