Word came down late last week that what might have been considered a Hail Mary outcome, the Preakness remaining in Baltimore on a permanent basis, had taken a huge step towards becoming a reality. Stronach Group, the owners of Pimlico Race Course, and Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young came to an agreement that fundamentally changes Pimlico and keeps the Preakness at “Old Hilltop,” where it’s been contested since the late 1800s.
The agreement will see the track donated to the City of Baltimore. The current grandstand demolished and a new one built. The track itself will be turned from its current alignment. In addition, some of the Pimlico property will be set aside for redevelopment.
Everything, however, isn’t settled, as the plan needs approval from the state. Governor Larry Hogan has stated before that his preference is for the Preakness to remain in Baltimore, however, with his recent history of cancelling the State Center and Red Line projects in Baltimore, as well as withholding money marked for school construction, skepticism from Baltimore residents is certainly warranted. There is also concern among horsemen about issues concerning moving training from Baltimore to Laurel.
Still, this represents a psychological win for Baltimore residents and boosters. Stronach is not planning to return Pimlico to a regular racing schedule as was the case in years and decades past, and will use the track for the leadup to and for, the Preakness itself. Still, the race, one of the defining events of Baltimore sports, will not relocate, like a former NFL franchise that used to play here,. It didn’t matter how far the Preakness might have moved, so long as it might have moved out of Baltimore City. Pimlico will become as much a monument to Baltimore’s identity and former glory as Laurel, the everyday epicenter of Maryland horse racing.
As murder, violence, and corruption continue to define the city’s image, it’s been important to many locals to hold on to the Preakness as another counterpoint to all the negativity in the city. Baltimore has a growing restaurant culture. A fun, quirky arts scene. Fascinating and informative museums. Even a burgeoning theatre scene. But to outsiders, and even some locals, who might not always afford to participate, those are less material than say, the Ravens or the Orioles. Just like those teams, you can turn on the TV and watch the Preakness, even if you can’t go. Another answer to the question of “what’s good about Baltimore?” But now that a dollar amount is being attached to that part of the city’s image, we will find out how much the city’s neighbors in the state agree with the importance as well.