Preakness Stakes' future, like Saturday's race, foggy

Preakness Stakes' future, like Saturday's race, foggy
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

With horseplayers and fans alike soaking in a Girls Know Best romping of The Very One stakes Saturday afternoon, music fans focused solely on rap artist Post Malone, who simultaneously carried out another song during the race.

Welcome to Preakness Stakes day at Pimlico race course.

With an announced 134,487 in attendance, the track that has stood just outside of Baltimore since 1870 is now at risk of losing the diamond that makes this rough shine, as the Preakness, which has been hosted by the legendary track since 1873.

“I think change is coming, and it will be for the better,” said Tim Ritvo, COO of track operator The Stronach Group, which also runs nearby Laurel Park, with the latter the company's desired future location for the Preakness.

“We'll go to Laurel, and we're still in the state of Maryland, and we'll give you a better, more elevated and prestigious experience,” the 52-year-old Ritvo explained to a scrum of media in the press box at Pimlico Saturday.

Ritvo, who has helped revitalize Gulfstream and Santa Anita in the recent past, has moved his focus toward Maryland, where he feels, despite a lower attendance — and no infield to host a concert during the undercard of Preakness day, which has been a recent tradition — would be the more practical, more accommodating location for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

“I think we'd have a smaller attendance. Everything is more to the premium, quality seats,” the former jockey and trainer said of a Preakness experience at Laurel Park. “We don't want to leave the small customer that likes to pay a fifty dollar venue fee to get in and see it, but it seems like that is the direction the industry is going, especially when you see events like the Breeders' Cup and stuff like that.”

It's expected the 2019 Preakness runs at Pimlico. Beyond that? Laurel has found itself a potential host even with an 80,000 capacity. Another round of "much-needed" improvements would be needed to continue on at Pimlico.

“We're going to try and get a Breeders' Cup there,” Ritvo said of Laurel, “and we're going to have the day in and day out racing there, and those improvements needed to come whether the Preakness moved or not.”

“I have a really good layout in my head of what Laurel [Park] could look like with about 75-80,000 people [in attendance,] continued Ritvo, when discussing his plans on more renovations. “[The concert stage would be] on the right side far — and the left side of the grandstand where it stops at the sixteenth pole — it would go out that way.”

In general, Ritvo feels that Laurel Park, “with the club seats and everything, would be much better.”

The newer of the two Maryland racing facilities, Laurel Park, which opened in 1911, saw itself in a major $1 million remolding phase in 1986, with another $1 million added in 1987. In 1989, a $1.85 million backstretch housing project was introduced. Today, the facility holds a dirt track consisting of 89% sand and 11% silt and a sandy loam turf composite track.

“We're still open-minded that if the city and state feels strong enough that they want to build a facility [at Pimlico] that we would still do that, but at the same time, Laurel has to continue that elevation of improvements and experience so that we can grow the business,” Ritvo said of renovations at dilapidated Pimlico.

“We made it pretty clear that we are not going to put any funds into it, because we don't have the funds to put into it. We are a privately owned company with no debt and we're in good shape, but at the same time, we're not looking to pour millions and hundreds of dollars into a facility [at Pimlico] and continue to renovate Laurel, but if the state believed that there was a commitment that needed to be done through the stadium authority, obviously that is something we would consider.”

As the horse racing world awaits a potential shift of a timeless tradition in the Preakness going from Pimlico to Laurel Park, the current picture here in Baltimore is undoubtedly foggy, just as it will be for the 143rd running of the race Saturday.

Meet Anthony Jaskulski

Anthony fell in love with horse racing in a city where the race has gotten away from many.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, a young Anthony was taken to The Meadows to watch the local harness racing action.  Frequent trips to Mountaineer followed, turning a love affair for this great sport into a full obsession.  The atmosphere: a perfect elixir of excitement, pageantry and enthralling action.

A spoiled writer and editor in the Pittsburgh Sports market for over a decade now, Anthony has covered two Super Bowls, two Stanley Cups, three Big East championships, a Final Four and a bevy of exciting action that only the Steel City could provide.  His happiest moment, however, was covering his very first Kentucky Derby, getting the chance to watch Always Dreaming take the roses.

Proving you don't have to live next to Churchill or Belmont to love and soak in every minute of this sport, Anthony has just one goal on his agenda: making sure that the next race is one you don't want to miss!

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