A new plan for reviving thoroughbred horse racing in Maryland would center the industry around a revitalized Pimlico Race Course in Park Heights that would be owned by a new state entity.
That’s the thrust of a report issued Friday by a state authority charged with charting a future for an industry that has struggled to find success at rundown, privately owned tracks.
The state and Pimlico’s current owner, the Stronach Group, have “reached the framework of an agreement in principle” that involves the company turning over the racetrack to the state to renovate, redevelop and run it, according to a statement issued by Gov. Wes Moore’s office Friday. The track would be leased to new operators and would continue to be home of the Preakness Stakes each May, along with year-round racing and training.
During a three-year redevelopment phase, the Preakness would move to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, which hosts most of the state’s thoroughbred racing dates.
At the end of redevelopment, Pimlico is envisioned to be an up-to-date track with a hotel, parking garage and other developments around it. The state would pay for the renovations to the track facility itself — using hundreds of millions of dollars in existing racing subsidies previously identified for the work — while private investors would handle the other improvements, Moore administration officials said. Horses would run at Pimlico 140 to 165 days of the year.
Stronach would own the rights to the Preakness Stakes itself, and it would lease those rights to the track operators. It’s unclear what the cost would be for the state or the new operators to license the rights to Preakness.
The long-term fate of Laurel Park would be up to the Stronach Group, as would the future of a shuttered Stronach-owned training center in Bowie.
The tentative agreement means Stronach would largely get out of the horse racing business in Maryland, where the company says it has been losing money in large part because the tracks are not attached to casinos that subsidize operating costs.
“We’re very proud of our contributions to Maryland racing, and we have helped sustain it over the last 20 or so years,” said Craig Fravel, executive vice chairman of Stronach’s 1/ST Racing and Gaming. “We’ve invested enormous amounts of money and incurred operating losses.”
He added: “We will be the biggest fans of Maryland racing continuing to thrive.”
There are many details to iron out, and Fravel indicated the goal is to have the deal finalized in the next 45 to 60 days. The parties will “put our nose to the grindstone” to complete the legal details, he said.
The plans — dubbed “Pimlico Plus” — also would be subject to approval by the Maryland General Assembly because they involve state money and a state-regulated industry. State lawmakers approved a plan for improving Laurel and Pimlico in 2020, but that work never got off the ground due to a mix of pandemic delays, inflation and tax implications.
The state would continue to look for a new location to house additional horse training, and three sites have been flagged as options: Bowie, Mitchell Farm in Harford County and Shamrock Farm in Carroll County. The state would have to negotiate to buy one of those properties and turn it over to the new state racing entity.
Altogether, the state would spend about $400 million in the Pimlico renovations and buying and opening a new training facility. The money would be redirected from existing state subsidies for the industry, without additional taxpayer funds.
The report from the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority also proposes significant changes to Pimlico’s track facility and development on land around the track.
The track improvements would include a “state-of-the-art right-sized” clubhouse that could also host events for up to 1,000 people, a smaller grandstand, stables for housing up to 650 horses and a new track that’s rotated from its current position. There also would be a hotel built by a private company. One or more garages could be built on the site, potentially shared with neighboring Sinai Hospital.
Land around the track would be carved into parcels that could be developed privately. Community leaders have long said there’s a need for economic development and amenities such as a grocery store.
The racetrack authority’s report suggests that resuming year-round racing and adding development would bring jobs to Pimlico and Park Heights.
Del. Dalya Attar, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, said she’ll work to make sure the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority continues to consider the community’s needs.
“We will see positive movement for the entire Pimlico community and Baltimore as a result of their work,” she said.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, who noted he’s “a son of Park Heights,” said in a statement that he’s optimistic about the plans.
“While details still need to be finalized, this agreement could lead to Pimlico being rebuilt as a more modern, best-in-class facility with year-round programming including a hotel, event space, development, and parking that would benefit all Baltimoreans, not just a few,” Scott said. He said the racetrack would build on the city’s investments in neighborhood housing, parks and a planned library.
The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents breeders and trainers, expressed cautious optimism about the proposal. Members were reading the report Friday, and the association plans to hold a town hall meeting soon to go over the details.
Timothy L. Keefe, president of the horsemen’s association, said in a statement that the proposal is “an important step forward for a sustainable and bright future” for the industry.
“We look forward to joining the MTROA during this transition period to lay the foundation to rebuild a strong and vibrant racing industry that supports thousands of jobs, preserves hundreds of thousands of acres of open space and contributes billions in economic impact to the State of Maryland,” Keefe said. “The men and women that get up every morning to work in this industry want to see a bright and thriving industry for years to come.”
Moore issued a statement thanking Stronach representatives, including CEO Belinda Stronach, for “professionalism and good faith” in the negotiations.
Stronach’s Fravel said talks about the tracks and racing have been ongoing since the ultimately unsuccessful 2020 plan to renovate Laurel and Pimlico was approved. They kicked up a notch this summer, after the new Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority began meeting to consider new paths for the racing industry.
“This is a culmination of an evolving situation,” Fravel said. “We started talking in serious fashion this summer with the Racetrack Operating Authority. Like any negotiation, there’s a lot of give and take, and we’re pleased with the outcome.”
Greg Cross, a Venable attorney appointed by Moore to chair the authority, issued a statement noting the “productive dialogue” with Stronach.
“We look forward to working together to deliver a first-class experience for racing fans in Maryland and across the country,” he said.