Preakness racegoers vote Pimlico for the future
by Nick Hahn
The status and future of Pimlico Race Course — a grande dame fallen on hard times — has been very much on the minds of Marylanders of late. The same was true of racegoers Friday who flocked 47,000 strong to the track for Black-Eyed Susan day.
What will become of Pimlico and the Preakness?
Walking through the Preakness grandstand Friday afternoon on Black-eyed Susan day, patrons weren’t denying their opinions on races, or on those questions.
Maurine Green of Baltimore hasn’t missed a Preakness in 31 years and was watching the Black-eyed Susan card inside from the behind the glass in the third floor grandstand. On a sunny day, it was raining in the seats in front of her, occupied by trash cans collecting the air conditioning condensation dripping from the ceiling some 70 feet above her head.
“I love it. It’s Baltimore tradition,” said Green, adamant about keeping the Preakness in Baltimore. “They need to commit to Pimlico and make the repairs that need to be made. Look at the money that is here this weekend. They can’t reinvest some of it here? They couldn’t film the Seabiscuit movie here because it’s so run down.”
Green started watching the Preakness in the infield as a teenager and eventually graduated to the grandstand, where she now sits in the same seats each year.
“I look forward to it each year. I get my tickets in December,” said Green, who channeled her inner Patrick Henry. “Only death or Laurel will stop me from coming to the Preakness.”
She compared moving to Preakness to Laurel to moving the Kentucky Derby to Ohio. A valuable racing ambassador, she brings about a dozen friends to the Preakness each year.
The Maryland Stadium Authority recently began a study of the status and future of Old Hilltop that aims to answer questions about the future of the facility: what needs to be done to Pimlico to make it a suitable venue for an event like the Preakness? And what will that cost?
Depending on the answers, the Maryland Jockey Club has intimated that Laurel Park, the central Maryland venue where it is investing the bulk of its capital resources, might one day — perhaps sooner than later — house the state’s biggest sporting event.
Terri Dolan is a Preakness regular who grew up in Baltimore, but yesterday was her first Black-Eyed Susan day. She spent it sitting in a circle of seats along the apron with a half-dozen of her friends who come every year.
“Personally, I think it would be sad if it’s not kept at Pimlico,” she said. “The neighborhood is not a factor. There’s enough security around here.”
Dolan was content with the infield obstructions that block the view at ground level of racing up the backstretch but would like the Maryland Jockey Club to improve the audio and video throughout the facility especially track announcer Dave Rodman’s calls of the races. If she knew that she couldn’t hear the calls, she said she would have brought a radio.
“Unless you’re a diehard racing person, you can survive watching the stretch run live,” she said.
Dolan remembers coming out more often when Pimlico ran more often when there were bands in the infield other than Preakness weekend.
“Younger people need to be enticed to come with activities,” suggested Dolan, who wished she would have stuck with using her own handicapping versus using her father’s, who was watching Friday’s card in an OTB.
Marty Burke of Catonsville was frustrated that he couldn’t see Friday’s Pimlico Special because the infield tents obstructed his view from where he was standing on the apron. After he saw his interest, Noble Bird, cross the wire in the lead once and more importantly the second time in the two-turn, 1 3/16 mile Pimlico Special, he felt a little more at peace with the surroundings.
He smirked as several newcomer fans behind him thought it was the finish of the race when the horses passed the stands for the first time, not realizing that it was a route race and that the horses would come down the stretch a second time.
“Keep it in Baltimore,” exhorted Burke. “There are a lot of ways to get here.”
He said that he thinks that Pimlico needs to be modernized, even if it means demolishing and starting from scratch in many places where paint won’t get the job done. “There’s a lot of history here,” he said.
Rosalind Hill of Pasadena, MD, a relative newcomer to the races was enjoying her day outside of that shopping tent at the top of the stretch with a round of mimosas with her friend Trashana Hall of Baltimore.
“I like the atmosphere,” said Hill. “It’s a better set-up this year with everything being so close”.
Hill said she would like to see the bathrooms improved and the numerous inclines and ramps remedied throughout the facility.
Stan and Amanda Janicki of Buffalo, NY were in the outside box seats less than an hour before being asked of their first impressions of Pimlico.
“It’s a great facility, better than what I heard,” said Stan, also satisfied in watching the race on the infield large screen TVs until the stretch run. “It’s the only part of the race that matters. The rest of the race means nothing.”
Winning can hide plenty. Stan, standing in a sear sucker suit, had just picked Sunnysammi, the favored winner of the sixth race.
On Preakness weekend, there seemed to be little support to move the race to Laurel, at least in Baltimore. The race could be moved, but it would be difficult to find a suitcase big enough to handle the tradition and heritage that goes with it.