Aging Pimlico strains to keep its grip on Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) It’s Preakness week, so Pimlico Race Course is adorned with fresh flowers, coated in bright paint and filled with the anticipation that comes with hosting the state’s biggest sporting event of the year.

The new foliage and slick paint can’t mask the fact that 147-year-old Pimlico is showing its age. Known affectionately as Old Hilltop, this old track has been trying for years to fend off the inevitable conclusion that it’s badly in need of a serious makeover.

Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, attended the Preakness post-position draw Wednesday. The event was held inside a lavish tent, where jockeys, trainers and high-rollers downed good food and mixed drinks.

Everyone appeared to have a good time. Sinatra can only hope that’s the case on Preakness day.

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

“We just need to have a nice facility,” he said. “We’ll be sitting on pins and needles Saturday, thinking, `What’s going to break today?’

“We don’t have the sky boxes. These tents are nice, but not everybody has the luxury of spending $1.5 (million) on a tent. We have to have the right spot, the right venue to have the Super Bowl here in Maryland, basically.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority recently released a study that it could take anywhere from $248 million to $321 million to renovate the facility. If that doesn’t happen, well, the Stronach Group, which owns the facility, has said it would consider moving the Preakness to nearby Laurel Park.

Not so fast, says the governor of Maryland.

“Governor (Larry) Hogan has made it clear that he wants to see the Preakness stay in Baltimore,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Wednesday. “The next phase of the Maryland Stadium Authority study will soon be under way, and the governor looks forward to seeing the results.”

So does Sinatra.

“Is it $300 million, is it $500 million, and then where does the money come from?” he said.

Pimlico opened for racing on Oct. 25, 1870. The track introduced the Preakness in 1873 – two years before the Kentucky Derby – and it has been held annually in Baltimore since 1909.

Though Pimlico has undergone many changes over the years, it still looks very much as it did in the 20th century. The grandstand, the stakes barns and the jockeys’ quarters are serviceable but not ideal.

Laurel recently had a $30 million facelift and now appears far newer and fresher. According to Maryland state law, however, the Preakness must be run at Pimlico unless there is “some type of emergency.”

Also, there’s something to be said for the tradition of running a Triple Crown race at a track that once hosted Seabiscuit, Man O’ War, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

“I do love history, and this is a beautiful place,” said Mark Casse, trainer of Preakness entrant Classic Empire.

But does tradition mean that much at a place in such obvious disrepair?

“You’d love to see Pimlico have the Preakness forever, but you also have to embrace modernization,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. “Sometimes it’s a delicate balance of tradition and forward thinking.”

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AP Writer Brian Witte contributed to this report.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.