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 Editorials

Thoughts from our editor, Joe Clancy. For archived editorials click here.

First the news. Last month, Maryland’s state legislature – 41 votes for to six against in the Senate and 105-32 in the House of Delegates – passed H.B. 1524 to make the Pimlico Plus plan a reality for the future of Maryland’s Thoroughbred industry.

The move triggers:

• The transfer of Pimlico Race Course by 1/ST Racing to the state of Maryland.

• The eventual closure of Laurel Park racetrack.

• The complete overhaul/revitalization of Pimlico as a year-round racetrack, training facility and home of the Preakness Stakes.

• The land acquisition and creation of a year-round training center, at a site yet to be selected, also owned by the state.

• The creation of a not-for-profit management company overseeing racing.

• The issuing of up to $400 million in bonds to pay for it all and paid back over 30 years with revenue already allocated to racing as part of state gaming law.

Plenty of finer details come along with all that, but those are the basics, assuming Gov. Wes Moore signs the bill into law. The Moore administration created the Maryland Thor­oughbred Racetrack Operating Authority last year, and charged it with finding a way forward, so his signature is expected. Anyone up for a Preakness Week signing ceremony at Pimlico? Can I get a pen?

And now the details. Throughout much of this process, leaders called Pimlico Plus a chance for racing to bet on itself instead of trying to work with a for-profit company to make it all work. Maryland’s racing landscape is complicated, with no slot machines or other forms of gaming at the tracks but a connection between slots and the purse account, breeders’/owners’ incentives and facility-upgrade funding. That structure basically puts owners, trainers and breeders in partnership with racetrack ownership, even if their aims don’t always mesh and the incentives of said partnership aren’t always clear. Maryland’s horsemen supported operations at the track with $11 million annually to ensure a longer schedule of live racing, for example.

In its work last year, the MTROA studied various alternative models and listened to experts and industry leaders about the future. Officials of the Maryland Jockey Club and parent company 1/ST Racing said the company struggled to make its business profitable and presented a vision of fewer racing days, higher individual race purses and a larger share of slots support. 

Horsemen and breeders didn’t agree with that vision and put forth a model with more live racing and a not-for-profit operator.

After examining those and other presentations, the MTROA put forth Pimlico Plus and worked out agreements with 1/ST. That felt like a monumental step. Next came the bill. Another big leap. Legislators talked about it in hearings, and ultimately amended it to satisfy Standardbred interests, include local representation on the not-for-profit board and earmark 10 percent of potential profits generated to assist the area of Baltimore near Pimlico. 

And now the future. The new operating company, overseen by the MTROA, will keep the Maryland Jockey Club name and eventually take over the management of everyday racing, the training center and the Preakness. 

Pimlico Plus will give Maryland a new racing facility and a new training facility. Owners and trainers will have more input than ever. Breeders will have stability. Baltimore will have another world-class sporting/entertainment venue to go with the Orioles and Ravens stadiums.

Racing loses some history in the demise of Laurel Park and the complete reconstruction of Pimlico. Both steps have been coming for some time, however, as neither facility is good enough anymore. I’ll miss both, but I’ll also welcome the chance to go racing at a new track and watch horses train at a new venue. 

Draw it all out another step and the structure is in place for the MTROA and the management company to address other pieces of Maryland’s racing future such as Fair Hill’s unused turf course, Timonium’s underused racetrack, the underfunded Maryland Million program, the (for now) four National Steeplechase Association meets in the state and, who knows, some future racetrack someone wants to create.

Much work remains – be it construction, vision, structure, management, personnel, scheduling, budgeting, you name it – but the potential for success is there. 

Bet on it.

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