Baltimore sues to block move of Preakness Stakes

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore has ratcheted up a bitter dispute with the owners of a historic racetrack in an effort to seize a nearly 150-year-old course and block the move of one of America’s premier horse races out of the city where it was first run in 1873.

Under state law, the Preakness Stakes – the middle jewel of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing – can be moved to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.” But the Canada-based development company that owns and operates the rundown Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore has made it abundantly clear that it wants to move the storied race out of the city.

A lawsuit freshly filed by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, the City Council and three residents claims that the Canada-based development company that owns the track is “openly planning to violate Maryland law by moving the Preakness to a different racetrack despite the absence of any disaster or emergency, except for the disaster that they are in the process of creating.”

The Stronach Group is looking at a fresher track it owns in Laurel Park – in Anne Arundel County about 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) south of the Baltimore facility – as a better option for the Preakness. It has only pledged to keep the Preakness at the Baltimore track through 2020.

In an email seeking comment about the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, the Stronach Group said it “believes these actions are premature and unfounded.”

Here’s what it wants to do: Stronach aims to make some $80 million in improvements to build a “super track” at Laurel Park and company officials are lobbying Maryland’s General Assembly to permit funding from gambling proceeds to help realize their vision.

Baltimore’s lawsuit, meanwhile, asks a court to grant ownership of the Pimlico track and the Preakness race to Maryland’s biggest city through condemnation. Baltimore is also trying to prevent the Stronach Group from using state bonds to fund improvements at Laurel Park.

The lawsuit accuses the company of essentially manufacturing a disaster by “systematically” underinvesting in Pimlico, instead spending the majority of the state aid it receives on boosting its Laurel track.

Hard feelings between Baltimore and the owners of Pimlico had been intensifying before this week’s lawsuit. In a February letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland lawmakers, Pugh portrayed the Stronach Group as a family business in disarray, noting that the feuding “father, daughter and now granddaughter” were “suing one another in multiple lawsuits.”

The Preakness saga’s latest chapter comes a few months after the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a report saying the Pimlico track should be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million.

It said the rundown condition of the aging Baltimore track presents challenges threatening the “continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes,” but it also stressed there did 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.

Pugh 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.

Hogan appears less than receptive to Baltimore’s latest tack, telling WBAL’s radio station that “the overwhelming number of people in Maryland don’t really care where it (the Preakness) is.”

“They would just like to keep it in Maryland.”

Yet the Republican governor also reiterated that he would like to see the major horse race remain in Baltimore.

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.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

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.