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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.

War of Will wins the 2019 Preakness Stakes

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War of Will, jockeyed by Tyler Gaffalione and trained by Mark Casse, won the 144th Preakness Stakes after a brief inquiry. This is the first Triple Crown win for both Casse and Gaffalione.

The win comes two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, where War of Will was one of the primary horses Maximum Security impeded during one of the most historic and controversial Kentucky Derby races on record. War of Will, known as “WOW” around the barn, finished 8th at Churchill and was elevated to 7th.

“I’m very happy for the horse, he deserved it more than anything. He’s so special,” said Gaffalione. “It really hasn’t even hit me yet. I can’t even put it into words. I just can’t thank my family enough for their support.”

Jockey John Velazquez was unseated off of Bodexpress out of the gate, and the riderless No. 9 horse continued to run with the pack. Stewards flagged the incident but quickly cleared it and listed him as “did not finish.” Outriders couldn’t attempt to catch him until later in the race because of how close he was running to other horses.

“I’m good,” said Velazquez. “To tell you the truth I’m just disappointed.”

After starting four back from pace-setter Warrior’s Charge, War of Will clung to the rail until sneaking through an opening down the homestretch to take over the lead. Longshot Everfast finished 1 1/4 lengths behind in second, and Owendale took third. Improbable, Bob Baffert‘s morning line favorite jockeyed by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, finished in fourth. Maryland-bred Alwaysmining ran 11th. See the full results here.

War of Will’s win comes just two weeks after one of the most controversial Kentucky Derby races in history. Maximum Security led wire-to-wire but was disqualified 22 minutes after crossing the finish line for impacting the forward progress of several horses, including War of Will and Bodexpress. Track stewards disqualified him, and every horse was moved up one position. Longshot Country House (65-1) finished second and was elevated to first.

For the first time since Grindstone in 1996, the Kentucky Derby winner didn’t run. Country House showed signs of a developing illness and stopped training. Maximum Security was rested after the Derby.

This was also the first time that none of the top-3 Kentucky Derby finishers have run in the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1951.

The Preakness Stakes, raced annually at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, is marked by its shorter distance and smaller field. Run just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the fast turnaround time can be the biggest challenge for horses who just ran at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

NBC’s coverage of the Triple Crown concludes at Belmont Park for the 151st Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 8 on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

Last year, Baffert’s horse Justify won the 143rd Preakness with Smith en route to win the 2018 Triple Crown. Owned by WinStar Farm, he became the 13th horse to do so and Baffert’s second, just three years after American Pharoah in 2015.

Baffert’s Improbable remains favorite to win the Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) Bob Baffert-trained Improbable remains the favorite for the Preakness.

Improbable is 3-1 to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown after being installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite. He was also the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, finished fifth and was placed fourth after Maximum Security was disqualified.

War of Will, who was initially the second choice in wagering at 4-1, was 6-1 as of late Saturday morning. Bourbon War, who didn’t run in the Derby, has been bet down from 12-1 to 9-2.

Last-minute addition Everfast, who opened 50-1, is no longer the longest shot on the board; he is now 22-1. The longest shot now is 26-1 Market King, who is trained by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas.

Odds will continue to fluctuate until post time at 6:48 p.m.