Pimlico Banking That Upgrades Will Bring Fans Back To Preakness Stakes

Written By Cheryl Coward on May 22, 2024
Pimlico Race Course

The days of over 100,000-plus flocking to Pimlico Race Course to take in Preakness Stakes festivities are long gone.  After the 149th running of the Preakness last weekend, the next significant chapter of Pimlico’s history is set to begin.

Gov. Wes Moore signed a spending bill last week. As part of the bill, the track’s ownership will change hands. The state will take ownership from The Stronach Group.

The change sets in motion the first stages of a $400 million revitalization project to overhaul Baltimore’s aging, antiquated horse racing complex.

The upgrades are crucial to keeping longtime fans and attracting new ones to horse racing, which has a $2 billion economic impact on the state.

Outdated facilities, significant drop in attendance plague Pimlico

Pimlico is one of four thoroughbred racing tracks in the state. There are also two harness racing tracks. Horse betting in Maryland is allowed at the tracks and several off-track betting sites across the state. There are also online horse racing sportsbooks open to Maryland bettors.

Pimlico is under pressure to modernize its amenities and aesthetics as the middle jewel in the Triple Crown of racing, between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Visitors routinely contend with reduced seating, out-of-order bathrooms, non-working elevators, dilapidated structures and more.

The last time Pimlico received a major overhaul was in the mid-20th Century.

Tom Rooney, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, recently told the Associated Press that upgrades are badly needed at Pimlico.

“You want to feel nostalgic, but then you look up at the ceiling and you worry that it’s going to fall in on you.”

The structural issues have contributed to a drop in attendance, with the COVID-19 pandemic delivering the biggest blow. Pre-COVID, the Preakness had a streak of over 100,000 fans attending the weekend’s activities each year from 2011 to 2019.

In the past few years, combined attendance has been around 60,000. This year, attendance was 63,423, a slight dip from last year, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Stronach Group said some of the decline is due to 7,000 grandstand seats being closed off for safety reasons.

Renovation project includes improvements to surrounding community

Another thoroughbred racing venue, Laurel Park, will eventually be shut down. A new facility will be constructed to house and train horses.

The 150th running of the Preakness next year will take place at Pimlico while renovations continue. Plans are to move the race to Laurel Park in 2026 and then return it to a revamped Pimlico in 2027.

The venue’s improvements will include enhanced race viewing, increased accessibility, a parking garage, more races and state-of-the-art facilities. Renovation plans also include improvements to the community surrounding the racecourse.

Photo by AP Photo / Garry Jones
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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayMaryland with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website Hoopfeed.com as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California.

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