On Tuesday morning, assistant trainer Ray Bryner took Mystik Dan for a quick stroll in his finery: a black-and-gold cloak marking him as the reigning Kentucky Derby champion.

As Bryner and the horse approached the opposite end of the barn, D. Wayne Lukas, the 88-year-old trainer with two horses set to race in the Preakness on Saturday, met the intrusion with a feigned scowl.

“He has to come down here and show him off,” Lukas quipped to a gaggle of reporters with whom he was holding court, all but shaking a fist in Bryner’s direction. “Come here and intimidate my horses.”

Contenders crossing paths happens frequently in the tight quarters at Pimlico Race Course, which trainers actually count as one of the charms of the Preakness Stakes — so much so that as the track goes through a nine-figure renovation over the next three years, they hope the barn area is one thing that isn’t changed.

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The green Preakness barns are obviously worn and in need of dire repair, like the rest of the facilities, with flaking paint and spots of moss growing in the crevices. Some staffers, such as grooms, are tasked with staying on the decaying premises while the trainers and owners stay in nearby hotels.

But for a sport steeped in nostalgia, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that some of horse racing’s biggest names have such affinity for the history of the barns — the Derby winner generally stays in Stall 40, which is conveniently situated between stalls ... 33 and 34 — to the point where they consider it something that should be preserved.

Kenny McPeek, Mystik Dan’s trainer who has been racing Preakness since 1995, said he understands the need to bulldoze the “fossil” grandstand (which has been condemned since 2019), and figures the layout of the track will change between now and 2027, when the track renovation completes.

But the barn?

“They shouldn’t touch the Preakness barn,” McPeek said. “The history and all the stories come outta here.”

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Pimlico’s special stakes barns, shown here in an aerial view taken by a drone, sit just west of the track and are, trainers say, essential to the charm of the Preakness. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It’s a touchy subject, even among the officials charged with finalizing the design of the track. The Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA) plans to start demolition of Pimlico this summer, but is still going through design plans and consulting with architecture firms.

Chairman Greg Cross said the MTROA knows how important the intimacy of the barns and their proximity to the track are to visiting trainers, and those qualities will be preserved. But the barns are expected to be torn down (like the rest of Pimlico’s distressed infrastructure) and built back up: “Our intent is to rebuild it,” Cross said. “Everything’s getting rebuilt.”

The horsemen, however, see it differently. Alan Foreman, the counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the state will take on a haul of historical artifacts from Stronach when the track is signed over later this year. He’d like to see a museum built and some of the history, which has fallen into disrepair, taken care of. To Foreman, that includes the barns.

“The barns should be preserved,” he said. “It shouldn’t be hard.”

The MTROA has many facets of the plan left to work out to restore Old Hilltop. In the meantime, the longtime trainers still delight in the crooked charms of the track.

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Lukas typically rides out every morning on a brown-spotted saddle horse to personally oversee training, wearing a black jockey cap, aviator sunglasses and golden spurs — a kind of cowboy Gen. George Patton. He notes that the western bend of the track has an egg-shaped arc — drawing a diagram in the dirt with his cane to illustrate — and that the home stretch actually is slightly sloped downhill, the kind of insights he’s gained from 44 years of racing at Pimlico.

“That’s good,” he added. “If you’re in the lead, you get a little kick.”

At Churchill Downs, Lukas said, the barns are far apart and the mood is tense. Trainers tend not to fraternize. A few short weeks later, however, all of that changes.

“We don’t have that camaraderie at the Derby — I don’t know if it’s so intense, if it’s the money or what,” Lukas said. “Nobody goes to breakfast together. Here, we’ll all be in the tent having coffee together.”

As the oldest resident on the row, Lukas might enjoy this dynamic the most. He and Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert (who has a record-setting eight Preakness wins to Lukas’ six) have preached the charm of keeping the race in Baltimore for years. Lukas joked that from time to time, Baffert wanders to his side from a few stalls over: “He’ll come sit here and ask me how to train a horse.”

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McPeek has been weathering Lukas’ barbs for three decades. When he first ran a horse at Preakness, Tejano Run in 1995, Lukas called the second-place finisher at the Derby “Tejano Done” at that year’s Alibi breakfast. The two still poke fun at each other, but have an agreement, the portly McPeek said: “We decided I’m not going to tell any age jokes, and he’s not gonna tell any fat jokes.”

It’s the warmth of the companionship between competitors that seems to make the ancient settings not seem so important as the people inside of it.

“The place is old, the barns are old,” Lukas said. “But when we come in here, everything’s nice.”