Report: Pimlico should be demolished

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BALTIMORE — The nearly 150-year-old Baltimore track that hosts one of America’s premier horse races should be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million, according to a report issued Thursday.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, in the second phase of a comprehensive study of Pimlico Race Course, recommends demolishing all existing structures at the historic track that hosts the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing.

The rundown condition of the aging Baltimore track presents challenges threatening the “continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes,” according to a summary of the conclusions.

The Maryland agency said that despite the track’s physical condition, there does not appear to be “situational factors” such as the surrounding city neighborhood of Park Heights and accessibility issues that would “negatively affect Pimlico Race Course’s ability to remain the long-term home of the Preakness Stakes.”

The Stronach Group, a Canada-based development company that owns and operates Pimlico, has looked at a fresher track it owns in Laurel Park – located about 30 miles south of the Baltimore track- as a viable option for the Preakness. Under state law, the race can be moved to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

In a Thursday statement, Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, agreed with the study’s findings and called for collaborative action by state and city authorities during Maryland’s upcoming legislative session in Annapolis.

“A successful and viable future for Maryland Racing requires an industry encompassing and thoughtful capital plan that looks beyond one weekend of celebration to achieving great success year-round,” the statement said.

The company has previously suggested it could be open to a public-private partnership.

Sandy Rosenberg, a state Democratic lawmaker whose district includes the Pimlico track, said the study sets forth a blueprint for “an extraordinary community development opportunity on the racetrack site that would also allow us to transform the current Pimlico into a 21st century racing facility.”

He said it’s important to understand what the redevelopment would do for the other 51 weeks of the year when the Preakness isn’t running. He noted the study recommends adding infrastructure around the track including a central plaza, various shops and a hotel.

“It’s putting on the table for public consideration a proposal that would be of great benefit 52 weeks out of the year to northwest Baltimore, the city and the region and to the racing industry, especially during that one week of the Preakness,” Rosenberg said.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city strongly endorsed the redevelopment plan recommended by the Maryland Stadium Authority, saying the economic opportunity it would bring could dramatically revitalize an area that’s experienced disinvestment for decades.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he’s always been supportive of keeping Preakness at Pimlico and would review the study in coming days.

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.

Though work crews have found a way to make the track presentable for the Preakness every year on the third Saturday in May, many racing fans have said the need for a dramatic makeover has been blatantly obvious for many years.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.