Tag Archives: Preakness

Pimlico’s Improving Future

By Barry Rascovar

March 20, 2017 – Thanks to revenue from Maryland’s successful slots casinos, the state’s thoroughbred racing industry has seen a re-birth that hints at prosperity for the Free State’s billion-dollar horse industry in future decades.

Breeders are returning to Maryland to take advantage of the huge jump in purse money fueled by slots proceeds. Off-track gambling revenue is rising. And the state’s most important day of sports entertainment, the Preakness, is breaking attendance and wagering records.

To keep those good times a-rollin’, though, will require a major investment by Annapolis political leaders and by their counterparts in Baltimore City.

Pimlico's Improving Future

The Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course as horses near the first turn.

It won’t be easy but it is achievable.

The centerpiece of Maryland horse racing is the Preakness, run at historic Pimlico Race Course since 1873 (108 consecutive years since 1909). Last May’s second jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown drew 135,256 fans to Old Hilltop – a record turnout for any sports event in Maryland.

But Pimlico is badly in need of a facelift.

Stronach’s One-Track Plan

The Stronach Group that owns Maryland’s two major race tracks at Pimlico and Laurel, would love to shutter the Baltimore facility and run exclusively in the Washington suburbs to multiply its profits. Laurel is where Stronach is putting all its improvement money.

That would be a wise business decision if not for the history, tradition and psychic ties between the Preakness and Baltimore. Move the race to a more southern location and the race loses all its history and records. Close Charm City’s race track and the community, already in bad straits, suffers mightily.

A new Preakness site can never duplicate the warmth and friendliness that exists between Baltimoreans and the nation’s racing community during Preakness week. Ask any trainer of a Preakness entrant and you’ll hear nothing but kudos. Pimlico, despite its physical limitations, is far and away their favorite stop on the Triple Crown circuit.

Preakness guests are received like old friends and acquaintances and get VIP treatment in a relaxing, comforting environment.

If the Preakness moved to Laurel, where would Stronach take racing’s VIPs that week for fabulous, down-home evening functions? Beautiful downtown Laurel? The nearby Holiday Inn?

Move the Preakness and a century-old bond would be broken. The gloss and mystique of the Preakness would disappear. Stronach would be devaluing one of its most valuable commodities.

Legal Barriers

Beside, Stronach can’t move the Preakness or shutter Pimlico without approval of the state racing commission and the Maryland General Assembly. Neither is in a mood to oblige. Not now and in all likelihood not ever.

But Stronach certainly is trying to present a case for such a move.

This year it has put Pimlico on a starvation diet of just nine days of racing. That’s an insult to Baltimore area racing fans and to Baltimore officials. Mayor Catherine Pugh should take note.

There is a glimmer of hope, though.

Thanks in large measure to Baltimore Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the Maryland Stadium Authority has come forth with a plan for modernizing and saving Pimlico.

It’s a “situational analysis” that paints an exciting future for a rejuvenated race track – if Pimlico’s owners are willing to take a realistic look at the state’s political landscape and accept a two-track solution.

Achievable Solution

This is a much-needed first step. It outlines a $285 million renovation program that is eminently achievable. There are amply ways to pay for this, thanks to the fact that it will have to be done on a multi-year basis.

By way of comparison, Churchill Down, home of the Kentucky Derby, underwent a $121 million renovation starting in 2001; it took nearly four years to complete. More renovations took place at Churchill in 2015 and 2016 (ultra-luxury suites, a fully renovated clubhouse and plans for a $37 million suite tower).

There’s no reason Pimlico’s re-make can’t be done in a similar phased-in way that divides the re-make into chunks with workable price tags over a decade.

Pimlico's Improving Future-2

Any they’re off on Preakness Day at Old Hilltop in Baltimore.

Stronach will have to chip in big-time if it wants Maryland and Baltimore to contribute handsomely, too. A public-private partnership only succeeds if all sides are fully committed financially.

Millions toward a Pimlico renovation could come from the 1 percent of slots revenue that already flows into a race track improvement fund. The $2 million in tax revenue generated each year by the Preakness also could be dedicated toward paying the interest on bonds for the renovations.

And remember how the Ravens’ football stadium was built: With special instant scratch-off lotteries. A similar money-raiser through the lottery agency could be devised for Pimlico’s facelift.

With bond interest rates near historic lows, this is an ideal time to start getting serious about what a beautified Pimlico will look like, the timing of improvements and the financing arrangements.

Racing Revival?

Moving the Preakness is out of the question. From a sports perspective, such a move would be a PR and financial disaster. It would be devastating to Baltimore and a black eye if the state of Maryland allowed such a travesty to take place.

Thoroughbred racing once was the Sport of Kings with huge crowds flocking to the tracks daily. The sport has been in decline in recent decades but there are signs of a rebound.

That rebound is clearly evident in Maryland. Additionally, cutting-edge technology advances such as virtual reality, augmented reality and electronic sports gaming hold immense potential to boost racing’s popularity and profitability.

For all those reasons, it’s time to get serious about making Pimlico a first-rate race course with all the creature comforts fan expect. It would be a big win for the surrounding communities, the city and the state.

Pimlico is an economic resource that holds considerable potential, but only if we take advantage of the opportunity.

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The Race Is On!

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

By Barry Rascovar / May 21, 2013

LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN couldn’t even wait till the Preakness had run its course at Pimlico to announce the obvious: he’s running for governor next year.

He did it in an unorthodox fashion that some labeled bizarre. His kick-off took place at one of the worst possible media times of the week – very late on a Friday afternoon – and at an out-of-the-way location for much of the Maryland media (Largo). Then he followed the next day with mundane mini-events in Frederick and Baltimore City.

Except for the lavish praise from his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Brown’s kick-off was underwhelming.

He cast himself as the uber -liberal in the race (though he’ll have trouble out-liberaling Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County, who says she, too, wants to be governor). Just think of him as “O’Malley-plus.” He wants more, more, more of every social welfare program that’s good for Maryland, and more, more, more of what O’Malley did as governor.

As far-left Congresswoman Donna Edwards told Brown’s kick-off crowd, “He cares about the things we care about.”

That pretty much boxes in Brown in this campaign. He’s running after the left-of-center votes within the Democratic Party, building on a foundation of African-American support and labor unions.
That’s not a bad strategy given the liberal leanings of Democrats in Maryland.

The problem is that this leaves his main opponent, Attorney General Dough Gansler, a huge opening to sweep up the rest of the Democratic vote on June 24 next year. Thanks to the departure of Comptroller Peter Franchot from the governor’s race, Gansler can slide to the center, or even slightly right of center on some issues.

He’s already done that in opposing O’Malley’s gasoline tax increase and he’ll do it on other issues, too. He wasn’t involved in crafting and pushing through controversial legislation over the past seven years. But Brown was.

Gansler now can portray himself as a populist critic of the big-spending, tax-raising O’Malley-Brown administration, just like Franchot would have done. At the same time Gansler has assiduously developed an enviable record as attorney general on social issues that plays well with liberal Democratic groups.

He also has a huge fund-raising lead that could grow now that Brown has a campaign staff to support for the next 13 months. Plus, Gansler won’t be tied down in Annapolis from January through mid-April while the legislature is in session. That could be a big advantage for a high-energy campaigner like Gansler.

Lurking on the horizon is another contender who could throw both Brown’s and Gansler’s plans into disarray: Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County.

In many ways, a Ruppersberger candidacy re-shuffles the political deck. He’s far better known than Brown or Gansler. Ruppersberger’s familiarity among voters is such that most of them refer to him simply as “Dutch.” That’s a big advantage.

Ruppersberger would immediately become the Baltimore-area candidate, but also the top vote-getter in rural parts of the state. He’s a “blue-dog Democrat” in Congress, a fiscal moderate slightly to the right of center but with a sparkling social record both on Capitol Hill and as Baltimore County Executive.

That could be a tough combination to beat, especially since Gansler and Brown (and Mizeur) are likely to split the Washington area vote. Meanwhile, Ruppersberger will pick up a good chunk of Baltimore City votes, thus denying Brown a Prince George’s County – Baltimore City axis.

The congressman’s real strength comes from the Baltimore suburbs, which he has represented for years – Harford County, Anne Arundel County and particularly heavy-voting Baltimore County.
He could become the immediate favorite – if he runs.

Giving up a seat in Congress is no small sacrifice, especially when you’re been a Big Wheel on the prestigious House Intelligence Committee. But Ruppersberger is term-limited on that panel next year, meaning a return to his status as a run-of-the-mill member of the minority party.

Besides, Ruppersberger loved running Baltimore County where he displayed solid skills as a manager and chief executive. He also would enter the race unencumbered by the controversies that now dog O’Malley and Brown – especially the tax issue.

That’s only one reason next year’s gubernatorial election is so hard to predict. Gansler has hordes of campaign cash. Brown has O’Malley’s and party establishment backing. Ruppersberger has the broadest potential voter base.

Will Dutch ditch the race? Will Mizeur steal votes from both Brown and Gansler? Will Democrats support an O’Malley clone or is voter fatigue setting in after two terms?

And how will Democratic turnout affect the outcome?

Legislators unwisely pushed the 2014 primary back to late June rather than in the fall. That’s a big change for voters. History shows early Maryland primaries attract small turnouts. History also shows the lowest turnouts are usually in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.

That does not bode well for Brown, who also is fighting the curse of Maryland lieutenant governors. Not one has succeeded his or her boss in the state’s top job.

So take your pick. Next year’s race for governor will be just as tough to handicap as Oxbow’s unexpected 15-1 triumph in this year’s Preakness classic.