Pimlico’s future remains up in air

BALTIMORE — Aptly nicknamed Old Hilltop, antiquated Pimlico Race Course has finally reached the point where its illustrious past might not be enough to assure a vibrant future.

The 144th Preakness will be run Saturday at Pimlico, and will be back next year, too. After that, well, nobody can predict the fate of a track where Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat and many others pranced to the winner’s circle. There continues to be a push to have Laurel Park host the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Pimlico is in need of a major overhaul, and Baltimore city officials, the owners of the track and many trainers disagree on whether it’s smart to spend nearly a half-billion dollars in upgrades. But while they are haggling, the track falls into further disarray.

Citing the “safety and security of all guests and employees,” the Maryland Jockey Club closed off 6,670 seats in the Pimlico grandstand last month. Many of the barns are dilapidated, and no amount of paint can mask the decrepit facade. It’s not a good look for horse racing, which is reeling from horse deaths, an unprecedented Kentucky Derby disqualification and no Derby winner in the Preakness for the first time in 23 years.

Despite Pimlico’s problems, the landmark still has its supporters.

“The Preakness belongs to Baltimore, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure Preakness stays right here,” said new Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who’s seeking state funding to redevelop Pimlico and the surrounding Park Heights neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Stronach Group — which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, as well as a training facility in Bowie, Maryland, and California tracks Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream — believes turning Laurel Park into a state-of-the-art facility worthy of hosting the Preakness is a better option.

Located just 27 miles southwest of Pimlico, Laurel Park already gets the lion’s share of racing dates in Maryland — 168 to 12 for Pimlico — and the owners believe it’s time for Maryland to choose one track or the other.

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