The tents of the turfside terrace are a cozy place to spend a day at Pimlico: food buffet, an in-house band between races, a front rail viewing spot at track level.

But Kathy Heinz, visiting Preakness for the second time in seven years from Texas, offered a frank assessment of Pimlico Race Course as a whole: “It’s a dump.”

Heinz pointed across the track to the clubhouse, which was built in the 1960s and has not undergone appreciable renovation since, and to the grandstand that has been condemned since 2019.

“If they had invited me here and we were over there,” she said. “I would never come back, and I would tell everybody not to come.”

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It’s not news to anyone that the course and its facilities need work, which is why Maryland is pouring in $400 million to overhaul Pimlico among other initiatives meant to toss a lifeline to horse racing in the state.

It’s welcome news to the out-of-town crowd of horse racing fans, who say they find the service and atmosphere of the Preakness Stakes charming but the facilities less so. They have suggestions for the state as it goes through the design and renovation process, which is intended to modernize the home of the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

One key fix? A more open paddock, which is a key feature of other tracks. Gulfstream Park and Del Mar, for examples, have huge paddock sand walking rings where the audience can feel closer to the horses.

Angel Lozada was among the bettors on the bottom floor of the clubhouse, alternating his attention between a rolled-up program in his fist and a wall of TV monitors airing races on the concourse. He and his wife, visiting from Orlando, Florida, had been sitting outside near the track, but the big screen on the infield showing the TV angles of the race was too small to watch from their vantage point. “You can’t really see it — they need something bigger.”

Pimlico, however, is a great place to make a bet, Lozada said. While it might have been a byproduct of dwindling early attendance, he added that it’s much easier to put money down on a race than at Churchill Downs, where he and his wife experienced long lines. The infrastructure is obviously aging, he said, but the staff is good at keeping the place clean.

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Leo Tatum of Fredericksburg, Virginia, has clear-cut tastes as a racing fan who drives to Maryland twice or three times a month during the season. He wore a shirt to Saturday’s races that read, “I LIKE BEER AND HORSE RACING” — a populist sentiment of Preakness itself.

Leo Tatum lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, but visits Maryland two to three times a month for horse racing. (Kyle Goon / The Baltimore Banner)

Part of the Pimlico Plus plan being pursued by the state is closing Laurel’s track to racing. That means a longer drive for Tatum, but he doesn’t mind.

“Laurel is closer, but I think this is a better track — it’s one less track to go to,” he said. “If they improve this one, it’d be great.”