first published in the March 2023 Equiery

Pimlico & Laurel Park Renovations Stalled
It has been three years since the Maryland General Assembly allotted $375 million in public financing to be used to renovate both Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore and Laurel Park in Laurel. The project was estimated to take three to four years to complete but as of press, no construction at either track has even started.

According to a February 3 Baltimore Sun article, the start of construction is still “unscheduled” and will not begin this year. The holdup seems to be a combination of a $160 million to $350 million project budget deficiency and an unresolved issue as to who will own Laurel Park once the renovations are complete.

Due to the rising interest rates and inflation costs to supplies and labor, the $375 million bonds have been devalued by more than $100 million over the past three years.

According to the Sun, the Stronach Group, who currently owns both tracks, will incur tens of millions of dollars in federal taxes if it receives state money for improvements, which they are not willing to pay. Therefore, the property would need to be sold to another entity. It has been suggested that the State buy the facility and run it based on the model in place at Del Mar Racetrack in California, however, there does not seem to be much support for this idea at the State legislative level at this time.

Pimlico would be signed over to the City of Baltimore with Stronach leasing the property from the City for the annual Preakness meet.

In addition, while the plans for the Pimlico project are relatively the same as what was proposed in 2020, the Laurel Park project has changed significantly. The newest version of the Laurel Park project now includes a training track in addition to replacing the dirt and turf tracks. Furthermore, construction at Pimlico cannot started until Laurel is completed since the horses and horsemen from Pimlico will need to stay at Laurel during construction.

The new Maryland Stadium Authority redevelopment report was submitted to the General Assembly on January 1 of this year. As of February 8, no committee hearings have been scheduled.

Negotiations Continue Between Racing Parties
Meanwhile, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association posted on February 8 that representatives of the Maryland racing and breeding industry are continuing to negotiate after the previous 10-year agreement expired on December 31, 2022.

After an initial one-month extension, Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) acting president Mike Rogers told the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) on February 7 that “the parties have extended the negotiation period by six months.”

This new extension goes beyond the Preakness meet at Pimlico. These negotiations are primarily between MJC, owned by 1/ST Racing), the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

The initial 10-year agreement was signed in December 2012. It included a guarantee of 100 live racing programs with a “revenue-sharing” contract with horsemen for additional dates. Both MRC and then Governor Martin O’Malley were involved with those negotiations.

Rogers stated, “I can say the conversations have been very positive.”

This year’s Preakness Weekend (May 19-20) is scheduled to include $3.5 million in purses.