Preakness could leave aging Pimlico, move to Laurel Park

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BALTIMORE (AP) Pimlico Race Course is all gussied up again this week, ready to host the Preakness on a day that will enable the 148-year-old track to survive another year.

Old Hilltop is showing its age, however, and it will cost more than a quarter-billion dollars to make it right. So while the group that owns and operates Pimlico promises the middle jewel of the Triple Crown will stay put through next year, there’s a chance that the 145th running of the Preakness in 2020 will be held within the state at newer, fresher Laurel Park.

Preakness Stakes: What Time, Where to Watch and More

Much depends on an ongoing study by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The initial phase of the investigation determined that it would cost between $250 million and $320 million to renovate Pimlico. The second phase of the study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“By then, we should know what the future holds,” said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Pimlico – and the Stronach Group – could get a shot in the arm from the Supreme Court ruling Monday that would allow states to legalize sports betting.

“We are already looking at opportunities where we can put sports books in our properties in Maryland,” Ritvo said. “It’s an added amenity for a customer at an already existing gambling establishment.”

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas believes that’s a viable option.

“You might be surprised who would show up here to bet sports,” the 82-year-old Lukas said while sitting outside the stakes barn on Tuesday. “In Maryland, if sports betting and horse racing can hold hands on an agreement on a contract, this thing might turn around a little bit.”

But if sports betting is legalized in Maryland, it will take a while – possibly even too long to address Pimlico’s needs. Maryland would need to approve a state constitutional amendment and legislators balked at passing a bill this year to put it on the ballot in November.

That stalemate was largely due to disagreements about who should be allowed to have sports betting – casinos and/or horse racing tracks. There was also concern that not a huge amount of money was at stake in the short term.

So, unless legislators hold a special session between now and November to put it on the ballot – legalized sports betting won’t happen in Maryland until at least 2020.

Lukas, who has won the Preakness six times and has two entrants in Saturday’s race, shook his head when asked about the prospect of moving the race.

“I would be really, really disappointed if they did,” Lukas said. “This is an awfully good facility for that day. I know the grandstand is old and everything, but everybody has a good time here. It’s a fixture in Baltimore, that’s for sure.”

The Preakness drew a record crowd of 140,327 last year, and the Black-Eyed Susan card one day earlier attracted 50,339.

But on most days, the horses at Pimlico run before a smattering of fans. This year’s Preakness is the highlight of a meager 12-day meet of live racing.

Back in its heyday, Pimlico hosted many of the sport’s most memorable races: Seabiscuit’s match race with War Admiral in 1938; Man o’ War’s debut in 1920 with a stunning win over Upset; and Secretariat’s last-to-first victory during his Triple Crown run in 1973.

But that was a long time ago.

There may not be enough paint, concrete and bricks to give Pimlico the makeover it sorely needs. Though work crews have found a way to make the track presentable every year on the third Saturday in May, the best course of action just might be to tear it down and build it over from the ground up.

“What we’re doing is under-serving the customer at the Preakness in the venue we’re in right now,” Ritvo said. “One way or another, we either need a new facility that can accommodate such a special event, or we need to move it eventually. Not because it’s a money-grab for the Stronach Group. What it is about is creating an environment for year-round racing.”

A few years ago, Pimlico hosted a live card on Kentucky Derby day, but more people showed up at Laurel to bet on simulcast races, Ritvo noted.

“Most Fortune 500 companies would run the Preakness for two days and leave, say it’s a great event and it’s profitable,” Ritvo said. “But being the stewards of this event, we have to look at what it’s going to be 100 years down the road.”

Toward that end, the Stronach Group is looking at Laurel Park – located 29 miles south of Pimlico – as a viable option.

“We’ve had discussions of what it would be like at Laurel, but not in detail,” Ritvo said. “There are lots of options at Laurel. Our focus at Laurel was to continue to improve the facility for year-round racing, and then also to host a Breeders’ Cup there very soon.”

Under state law, the race can be moved to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

Ritvo knows the law, and he isn’t looking to create issues.

“The truth of the matter is, we don’t want to be disruptive or fight with anyone,” he said. “The Preakness is always going to be a Maryland event. And if Laurel someday is a better location, more profitable and makes more sense and works, we hope the state would see that and understand it.

“There’s going to be a large investment needed to rebuild Pimlico. We’re not asking for them to do that, but if they want to do that and have that in the core of their heart, then we’re willing to listen.”

Associated Press Writer Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland contributed to this report.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”