Baltimore Sues To Force Second Jewel Of Triple Crown To Stay Put

March 20, 2019 by Dan McCue
Thoroughbreds thunder down the track at the start of a race. City officials in Baltimore have filed a lawsuit to ensure such scenes continue to be commonplace at the Pimlico Race Course, home to the annual Preakness Stakes. They fear the owner of the historic track, the Stronach Group, wants to move the 146-year-old event to another venue. Photo by Dan McCue

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh sued the owners of Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday in a bid to block them from moving one of the city’s signature sporting events, the Preakness Stakes, to another thoroughbred racing track in Maryland.

Pugh, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court, on behalf of her office, the city council and three local residents.

She is asking the court to prevent the owners of the track and race, the Stronach Group, from using state funds to fund improvements at the other track, Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, which is about 30 miles south of the Baltimore facility.

Instead, she’s asking the court to grant ownership of Pimlico and the Preakness to the city through condemnation.

The Stronach Group took control of Laurel and Pimlico, where the Preakness was first run in 1873, when it bought the Maryland Jockey Club, eight years ago.

Since then, the lawsuit claims, the Stronach Group has “systematically underinvested in Pimlico and invested instead in the Laurel Racetrack.”

A Maryland law passed in 1987 explicitly states the Preakness, the second jewel in racing’s Triple Crown, can be moved from Pimlico “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

The other two “jewels” are the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

Stronach has spent the majority of the state aid it receives for track improvements on Laurel Park for the past several years.

Pugh maintains the Stronach Group is “openly planning to violate Maryland law by moving the Preakness to a different racetrack despite the absence of any disaster or emergency, except for the disaster that they are in the process of creating.”

“Through the systemic divestment of Pimlico, Defendants could indeed manufacture an ‘emergency or disaster’ to justify transfer of the Preakness to Laurel, as undermaintained infrastructure begins to fail and crowds attending Pimlico races and the horses racing there are endangered,” the lawsuit claims.

The mayor also states that moving the race, which is held in mid-May, would harm the Park Heights and Pimlico neighborhoods around the track, which are poorer than the neighborhoods surrounding Laurel Park.

“Divesting from Pimlico in order to invest in Laurel and Bowie creates further imbalances in Maryland’s economy,” the lawsuit states.

The Stronach Group has promised to keep the Preakness at Pimlico through the 2020 horse racing season.

At the same time, it has been investing heavily in Laurel Park in the hopes of attracting the multi-million dollar Breeders’ Cup and other lucrative stakes races to the region.

To help bring its plan to fruition, the group has backed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to issue $80 million in bonds to pay for improvements at Laurel and another $40 million in bonds for enhancements at a nearby training center.

With less than three weeks remaining in the current General Assembly sessions, the fate of the legislation is uncertain. States lawmakers representing Baltimore and its surrounding communities have been vocal in their opposition to it.

One of them, State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, has proposed amending the bill to require Stronach to file a redevelopment plan for Pimlico before any bonds could be spent on Laurel.

In the meantime, Pugh says if the court allows the city to take ownership of Pimlico and the race, the “properties will be used to continue their historic role in the cultural traditions of Baltimore City, to foster employment and economic development in Baltimore, and in particular in the Park Heights Urban Renewal jurisdiction, as well as to protect the health and safety of the people attending the Preakness and other Pimlico events.”

In a statement provided to The Well News, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis said though the city moved forward with the filing of the lawsuit, “we remain willing and hopeful to continue discussions with the defendants and all stakeholders to reach an agreeable resolution of our claims.  

“There is no “Triple Crown” without the Preakness Stakes and the Preakness Stakes belongs in Baltimore City at Pimlico,” Davis continued.  “And that is true by virtue of its long history and tradition as well as by state law. So we are hopeful that all concerned will see the wisdom in pursuing the path of restoration of the Park Heights facility to continue our great tradition as the venue for the second leg of the Triple Crown. ”

In a statement of its own the Stronach Group said, “These actions are premature and unfounded.”

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