Days before the running of the 149th Preakness Stakes, Stronach Group CEO Belinda Stronach says she feels “really good” about her decision to turn over ownership of the historic Pimlico Race Course to the state.

The transfer is a few legal steps away from happening, and the state government could hold the title to the track property in Northwest Baltimore by early summer. As part of the process, Stronach was at the State House in Annapolis on Wednesday, observing the state Board of Public Works sign off on five different legal agreements.

Under the deal, dubbed “Pimlico Plus,” the Stronach Group will transfer Pimlico to the state for $1. The state will own the dilapidated track, redevelop it with state-backed bonds and create a nonprofit entity to run thoroughbred horse races there year-round.

During construction, racing will move to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, but ultimately that track will close and Stronach will retain ownership of the land.

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Company officials have said little about the deal as it has gone through various approvals over the last several months, and Stronach had not spoken publicly until Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to come to an agreement,” Stronach said during the Board of Public Works meeting. “This has been a long time coming.”

Stronach thanked state negotiators, lawmakers, horse industry representatives and track neighbors for their work on the deal.

“Looking to the future, we are really excited about the new Preakness and Pimlico, and for generations to come, to put horse racing on sustainable footing,” Stronach said in her public remarks.

The future of Maryland thoroughbred racing, however, eventually will not include Stronach or her company as they largely exit from the industry here. The Stronach Group will maintain ownership of the rights to run the Preakness, which will be leased to the state for an annual $3 million fee plus 2% of the gross betting handle for the weekend, so the company will continue to have an income stream in Maryland.

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During a brief interview, Stronach demurred when asked what it would be like to be on the outside watching in.

“We’re focused on Saturday,” she said, referring to Preakness. “We’re focused on delivering that best-in-class guest experience and on making sure the horses get around safely.”

After this weekend, “We’ll probably reconvene and take another deep breath and go: ‘OK, what do we do for 150?’ Now, 150 will be a giant celebration. And it will be the beginning of the next chapter.”

John Velazquez and National Treasure win the 148th Preakness Stakes in 2023. Pimlico Race Course is set to be transferred to the state, renovated and designated as the year-round home of thoroughbred racing in Maryland. (Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire/Cal Sport Media)

The 150th Preakness in 2025 will be the final one held at Pimlico in its current layout. After that, renovations managed by the state will begin in earnest, with a goal of reopening the track in time for the 2027 Preakness. (The 2026 race will run at Laurel Park.)

Stronach did not shed much light on how she and her team decided to agree to turn over Pimlico to the state. She credited Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, for his focus on bringing all the parties together.

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“The governor set the tone,” Stronach said. “He wanted to engage in discussions with us and the stakeholders to try and create something that was good for the state of Maryland and very good for the racing industry.”

She added: “We said, you know, this makes sense for the state. It makes sense for the industry. We will contribute the land and, in exchange for that, we get a license fee [for Preakness] and we get some of the upside. And we’re all aligned that the Preakness becomes even more successful.”

Although the future of Pimlico Race Course is being charted after years of uncertainty, there’s no definitive plan for Laurel Park once racing is discontinued there. The main Laurel track property is 229 acres, but that includes wetlands areas that are undevelopable. There’s also a nearby 58-acre property.

Stronach said there is no plan for the Laurel properties “at this time” and it will be something to consider in the future.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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