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Historic section of Pimlico not safe for Preakness seating

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BALTIMORE — Nearly 6,700 grandstand seats at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course are not safe, an engineering firm has determined, meaning roughly 18 percent of the historic track’s seating capacity will be cordoned-off when it hosts one of America’s premier horse races next month.

Some city lawmakers assert that the looming closure of the northern grandstand adjacent to the clubhouse – the oldest section of seating with a capacity of 6,670 – illustrates how the Canada-based development company that owns and operates the track has systematically routed renovation cash away from the host of the Preakness Stakes. The storied race is the second-leg of the Triple Crown.

“This announcement underscores the core issue of renovation funding being intentionally steered away from Pimlico to help manufacture a crisis,” said state Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.

Pimlico owner The Stronach Group says its hands are tied: An engineering firm has determined that the northern grandstand with those 6,670 seats can’t sustain that level of load bearing weight any longer. The announcement about the closure of the 125-year-old section of seating was made by the Maryland Jockey Club, a state sporting organization that called the closure a “difficult decision.”

It’s the latest chapter in a meandering saga pitting Stronach against Baltimore authorities desperately trying to hold onto the middle jewel of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. Thousands of racing fans will flock to Pimlico on May 18 for the 144th running of the Preakness.

There’s been no shortage of recent drama ratcheting up the dispute.

Most recently, a bill failed to pass in Maryland that would have allowed The Stronach Group to use state bonds for improvements at Laurel Park and Bowie Training Center, if it redeveloped the Pimlico Race Course. Baltimore’s House delegation opposed the move over concern about the company moving the Preakness out of the city where it was first run in 1873.

And last month, a lawsuit filed by Baltimore’s mayor, the City Council and three residents claimed Stronach was “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.”

Under state law, the Preakness Stakes can be moved to another track in Maryland “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.” Yet Stronach has made it abundantly clear it would like to move the race out of the city. Over the years, it has spent much of its state-subsidized renovation funds on boosting its newer track in Laurel, not the increasingly dilapidated Pimlico.

The announcement about safety concerns about Pimlico’s rickety grandstands is hardly out of the blue. A report issued late last year by the Maryland Stadium Authority recommended demolishing all existing structures at the historic track, asserting that the rundown condition of the aging Baltimore track presents challenges threatening the “continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes.” It called for the track to be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million.

According to the track’s website, the section of grandstands to be shut down represents some 47% of the roughly 14,000 seats in Pimlico’s clubhouse, main grandstand, old grandstand and sports palace and make up nearly 18% of the overall seating capacity for some 38,000 patrons. Another 82,000 people can cheer for their racing favorite in the standing room and infield areas.

The closure will be in effect for the entire Pimlico spring meeting, which includes the Preakness May 18. Tickets sold in the affected section for the Preakness can be traded in at face value for similar seating elsewhere.

A Stronach representative was due to speak about the decision Monday but officials ended up scrapping that news conference. A company official did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Monday.

Outrider Kaymarie Kreidel key in Preakness chase for Bodexpress

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Bodexpress amused millions around the country for his jockeyless joyride during the 2019 Preakness Stakes. The squirming No. 9 horse had already thrown his jockey John Velazquez off balance in the starting gate, so when the horse took off with a big leap up, as well as forward, his Hall of Famer jockey was thrown to the ground (with no injuries).

How Bodexpress ran the 2019 Preakness without a jockey

The race replays are hallmarked by the bay horse running towards the back of the pack, and his wild (riderless) ride sent shock waves around the internet. After the race, it was announced that Bodexpess had been caught and was in good health. That was made possible by outrider and former jockey Kaymarie Kreidel.

Kreidel rode her first race in 1991 and logged over 2,500 career starts, earning over $3 million by her last race in 2017, according to Equibase. She was aboard Hunter, a former race horse who was retired in 2011 after winning one in five starts and given to Kreidel by Stronach Stables, according to Paulick Report. Together, they work the Maryland race circuit maintaining order for horses and humans a like.

See Larry Collmus, voice of the Triple Crown, call the 144th Preakness

What is an outrider? 

Go to any race track, whether its Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby or your local track on a Wednesday afternoon, and you’re sure to see outriders. They’re even on duty during early morning workouts.

“An outrider’s job is basically like being a police officer,” Kreidel says. “We are in control of the people on the racetrack to make sure everybody follows rules, and we are in control of safety. So if a riders in trouble, we go out and help them assist them in any way: either stopping them or helping them with a horse they cannot steer. And if we have a loose horse, we are first on scene and we react and catch the loose horse if possible.”

There are risks involved, just like any job directly involved with horses. Outriders deal with young, inexperienced and unpredictable horses on a regular basis, so having a reliable mount is crucial.

“I couldn’t be as good of an outrider if I didn’t have the horses to do it,” Kreidel says. “I trust my horses 120 percent. Everything I do, I give my horses 100 percent credit, because without them, I would never be able to do anything that I do.”

How do you catch a loose horse during a race? 

Horses are skittish herd animals, so Bodexpress’ training and natural instincts kicked in, and he rocketed out of the gate and kept pace with the pack even without Velazquez.

“Since he was right with the pack of horses, none of us make an attempt to interfere with the race,” Kreidel recounts.

She and Hunter made their first attempt to grab Bodexpress mid-race, but the young and inexperienced horse was already riled up and wasn’t ready to stop.

“We were going for it, and he ducked to the left up behind horses,” she says. “If I go to grab him and he makes a U-turn, he can run into the horses head on, or he can dive toward another rider and get them hurt. So I went, it didn’t look like it was going to pan out right, so I pull out.”

Kreidel says Bodexpress probably clocked in around 40 or 45 MPH during the Preakness, which only heightened their concern for safety.

He went on to cross the finish line and follow other horses as their jockeys were pulling up. On the backstretch, he switched directions before giving Kreidel another shot.

“I made one bid going the wrong way, and he stopped and spun around and took off again,” she says. “When I made the next bid, that’s when I was able to maintain control, grab the horse and stop him.”

After her daring catch, Kreidel was swarmed by reporters and other outriders, but she wasn’t phased.

“I was a jockey for 16 years, and you get excited before you get in the gate, but once you break out, your focus is on winning the race,” she says. “And yeah, I get excited when the lights comes on and I know I’ve got a loose horse to catch, but once I get focused on that horse, it’s all business. My job is to catch the horse.”

Watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes only on NBC and NBCSN. Coverage on NBCSN begins Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup and continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. Post time is set for approximately 6:50 p.m. See the full broadcast schedule here.

Second horse in 4 days dies at Santa Anita

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Santa Anita had its second horse death in four days when a gelding pulled up during a race Sunday and was euthanized a day later.

Twenty-five horses have now died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Spectacular Music was running in a six-furlong maiden claiming race when the jockey pulled the horse up on the backstretch shortly after leaving the gate.

The horse was taken off the course with a pelvis injury and the decision to euthanize him was made Monday morning.

On Friday, a 3-year-old horse broke down with a shoulder injury while galloping and was euthanized at the track.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.