JC / Railbird

Maryland

Intertwined

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun delivers a story on Park Heights, the neighborhood that surrounds Pimlico. Three quotes:

1.

“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in Laurel,” Ritvo says. “Laurel is a much better place to have a year-round facility.”

State law requires the organizers of the Preakness to hold the race in Baltimore, unless there’s an emergency. But Ritvo says crime and blight are keeping the track in Pimlico from greater success.

“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” he says. “We had a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”

Security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in June 2015.

“When we run the Preakness here,” Ritvo says, “we try to get everybody out before it gets too dark.”

2.

City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the area near Pimlico, says a race track renovation plus connected businesses could help spur economic growth in the neighborhood.

Schleifer says the Stronach Group is standing in the way of progress.

“If we found a partner to rebuild that facility, you would see private investment come in on every corner,” he says. “These guys are holding Park Heights hostage.”

3.

Losing the Preakness would be a huge blow to the neighborhood’s rebirth, he says.

“If you had the Super Bowl in your backyard every year, you would never let it go,” Hurley says. “I don’t understand how anybody could be OK with it going to Laurel.”

Read more: Here’s a good overview of the money and politics involved at the Maryland Reporter. The Stronach Group is committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland, if not at Pimlico, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says.

From the department of far-fetched ideas: A New Jersey state senate candidate sees opportunity for Monmouth Park. “Pimlico is struggling to keep up its end of the bargain … let’s edge them out. With the right investments, Monmouth Park has the potential to be the new home of the Preakness.”

5/17/17 Addendum: So, about the Preakness moving to Laurel …

The subject is bound to stir powerful emotions, says Anirban Basu, an economist with the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group who has studied the Maryland racing industry. But in pure financial terms, he agrees with Ritvo that the Preakness could thrive at Laurel Park.

“I’m not advocating one way or another, but I don’t see any reason the race would not work much better at Laurel,” Basu says. “It’s a more upscale track, the MARC station is right there, there’s more parking and it’s in closer proximity to BWI and the D.C. airports. I very strongly believe the race at Laurel would be a more upscale affair that would attract more well-heeled patrons from around the nation and the world.”

On the other hand, the event would sacrifice some of its tradition and its quirky juxtaposition of corporate tents and college debauchery on the infield, he says.

“It would be more of a corporate race at Laurel,” he says. “At Pimlico, it’s more of a populist affair.”

From the archive, about that “populist” aspect: Whose Party? (5/12/15)

And here’s a stinging Baltimore Sun editorial taking the Stronach Group to task on the idea of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel:

It might well be smarter to talk about an entirely new Pimlico rather than investing in renovations …

But as for the wisdom of investing in Pimlico, we would note that the good condition of Laurel and deteriorating one of Pimlico didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Stronach and its predecessors to consolidate operations and investments in Laurel …

Rather than warning that it would require a “huge” commitment of state resources to keep the Preakness at Pimlico — and not acknowledging the “huge” amount of money the state is already sending their way as a result of the legislation that legalized slots and casino gambling — Stronach officials ought to be focused on finalizing an agreement with the Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Development Corp. on a second phase of the Pimlico study.

The East Boston Connection

Furthering my half-joking homer theory that everyone in American racing has a connection to Suffolk Downs is this story of jockey Edgar Prado:

In 1988, one of Bob Klesaris’ jockeys at Boston’s Suffolk Downs was suspended. Too aggressive a ride, too tight, the trainer was told. Klesaris challenged the decision. It was his first appeal at the racecourse. He was confident the stewards would see, as he did, that his jockey was “100 percent in the right.”

They didn’t, and when Klesaris returned to the barn area, he spotted the offending jockey.

“Listen, I’m going to send you to Maryland,” he recalled telling him.

Edgar Prado, who over the next decade in the state would become its leading jockey six times, turned to Klesaris. Not knowing much about the nation’s geography, he asked: “What country is that?”

Suffolk racing returns for the first of three weekends this year on July 9-10.

Deputed Testamony, RIP

The 1983 Preakness winner died today at age 32.

In a 2011 Kentucky Confidential video, Jeff Krulik and John Scheinman visited the then-oldest living Classic winner at Bonita Farm.

Deputed Testamony won his Classic without racing on Lasix, a point interesting then because patchwork raceday drug regulations were just one of the reasons the 1983 Preakness was dubbed the “Prescription Preakness,” and now, as the Lasix debate reaches another peak.

Maryland Mess

John Scheinman has a full report in the Thoroughbred Times on the apparently imminent end of Maryland racing. Here’s the kicker:

Asked if he believed the Preakness would be run next year, commission chairman Louis Ulman said, “I’d say no.”

That state is exploring all its legal options for saving racing dates and the Preakness Stakes. “That could involve seizing the tracks by eminent domain.”

10:30 AM Update: MTHA general counsel Alan Foreman tells the Blood-Horse: “This needs to be solved in the next 48 hours …

11:55 AM Update: Tentative agreement reached? That’s what Maryland governor Martin O’Malley’s office is telling reporters. (Confirmed. Details TK.)

12/23/10 Update: As Frank of That’s Amore Stable mentioned in a comment below, a compromise deal was reached on Wednesday. The Preakness has been saved; 146 days of racing have been scheduled for 2011. One aspect of the agreement that should please horseplayers is this — horsemen won’t be compelled to lobby for takeout increases, as MID-Penn was demanding earlier.

More from the Baltimore Sun: “The governor’s deal puts racing on life support for at least a year, but it doesn’t change an obviously poisonous ownership structure for the tracks that imperils racing’s long-term viability.”

Racing’s Working Class

Unappreciated. Endangered.

PowerCap responding a New York Times piece on the Big A:

I contend that Aqueduct holds a different type of charm. Certainly in this world there are diverse experiences and tastes — especially in New York. Aqueduct is a remnant of old working class New York …

The New York Times on NYC OTB workers facing their future:

After that, she said, she would have to find another job soon because merely maintaining her health insurance would cost almost $500 a month. “I’m good at everything,” she said, rattling off her qualifications. “I can serve food. I can run a register. I can stack boxes. I can baby-sit kids.”

From John Scheinman’s report on uncertainty in Maryland:

“I think it’s kind of a shame what they’ve been doing so far,” said jockey Forest Boyce…. “The most amazing thing about this industry is they employ all levels of education, from people who just got out of jail to people that graduate from Yale.”

The Washington Post on the last day of racing at Laurel:

There are 85 trainers with 969 stalls at Bowie and 68 trainers with 1,059 stalls at Laurel Park. “There’s going to be a lot of unemployed, homeless, helpless people with nowhere to go,” says Pickett, 30, who was one semester shy of a law degree when she chose to work with horses full time.

If Churchill CEO Robert Evans’ 10-year business model for racing is right, we’ll be reading more of these stories in the near future as the industry contracts.