Maryland Lawmakers OK Plan To Rebuild Pimlico Race Course, Home Of The Preakness

Maryland lawmakers adopted a plan to renovate Baltimore's historic but outdated Pimlico Race Course and transfer it to state ownership in the last hours of the legislative session on Monday.

The Preakness Stakes headquarters would be rebuilt with $400 million in state bonds. The proposal also requires the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, to transfer ownership to a state-run organization.

We think it’s important to not just make sure that we’re protecting an industry that means a lot to this state, not just in terms of its history but in terms of its future, but also this is an important bill for the community,” Moore, a Democrat, told reporters earlier.

The Preakness would move to Laurel Park in 2026 while the new facility is completed, returning to Pimlico in 2027. The Belmont Stakes, the third Triple Crown race, will return to Belmont Park after a two-year absence at Saratoga Race Course after a $455 million redevelopment.

Late-introduced bill had a rocky route through the legislature. Some politicians worried about the state covering running costs. Operating losses were covered by horse racing purse accounts after the amendment.

"I'm glad to bet on ourselves, but the industry has been struggling, and we can only do so much," said Baltimore Democrat Senate President Bill Ferguson. It's not a blank check, therefore the state's culpability is limited.

Maryland lawmakers approved a 2020 track rebuilding plan, but it never started. The new plan uses $400 million in state bonds, up from $375 million. Plans call for a training facility with details to be determined.

The state has debated restoring the racecourse for decades. The track opened in 1870 as Old Hilltop. Man o' War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and others dashed to victory.

But its age has long been an issue. The Maryland Jockey Club closed over 7,000 grandstand seats in 2019 for “safety and security of all guests and employees.” In 2023, 65,000 people attended the Preakness on Friday and Saturday, down from 180,000 four years earlier.

The Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority was founded at the close of the legislative session last year to reconsider possibilities. In January, it recommended investing in Pimlico to hold more races.

The horse racing industry has historically shaped Maryland culture. Racing and other equine businesses have been vital to Maryland agriculture and green space preservation. The equine business generates $2 billion for the state.