The 12 days of… Pimlico?

by | Dec 20, 2016 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories | 1 comment

Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

by Frank Vespe

That lump of coal that Pimlico Race Course fans received in their stockings came in the form of today’s official word that the home of the Preakness would, in 2017, also be the home to only 11 additional days of live racing.

That announcement came at this afternoon’s monthly meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission, held at Laurel Park, which will play host to 150 days of racing action next year.

Racing will take place at Laurel Park through May 7 – the Sunday following the Kentucky Derby – before moving to Pimlico.  It will remain at Pimlico for the duration of May, with the track racing Thursday, May 11 through May 14, May 18-20, and May 25-29.

The Preakness takes place May 20.

Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), which owns both Laurel and Pimlico, said there were two major factors in deciding to trim Old Hilltop’s schedule from last season’s 28 days to next year’s 12.

“It worked last year, opening up the weekend before the Preakness and letting the guys set up the infield [including all of the corporate hospitality locations],” he said.  “And then we get past the Preakness, and a) it was a ghost town there last year and b) the majority of the complaints – and when I say majority, we’re talking 70 to 80 percent – you can’t see the backstretch from the frontside because of all the structures.”

The infield tents and other structures block views across the racetrack for most patrons, certainly a common lament among racegoers.  But the MJC has maintained that they are necessary to provide the kind of high-end hospitality options necessary to lure major corporations – and generate crucial revenue on Preakness day and Black-Eyed Susan day, the two biggest days of the Maryland racing year.

The MJC’s desire for a first-class modern racing facility – and the city of Baltimore’s interest in keeping the Preakness in the city – led the various interests to team up with the Maryland Stadium Authority on a study of the future of Old Hilltop and its feasibility as the home of the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.  The first phase of that study is expected to be complete in the first half of 2017.

Sinatra said, however, that the shortening of the Pimlico meet was not a sign that the company had abandoned Pimlico or pre-judged the Stadium Authority study.

“That really isn’t it,” he explained.  “We’re waiting on the same Stadium Authority results [as everyone else]. I just want the customer to have the best experience.  For Preakness, we have to build this civilization in the infield, which takes the better part of two to three months. I can’t get it down quick enough to continue racing there for everybody to have the same experience after the Preakness.”

Meantime, simulcasting continues at PImlico Wednesday through Sunday, though the MJC has ceased to provide food service there other than vending machines.  According to Sinatra, the track’s food service operation was costing the company far more than the revenue that it generated.

Sinatra said that the change has not affected wagering at the track, however.  “The customers there are coming to bet,” he said.  “They’re not there to buy beer and hot dogs.”

MARYLAND RACING COMMISSION NOTES: The Commission adopted, on an emergency basis, the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s revised rule on multiple medication violation points.  That rule reduces the points assessed to trainers for the least serious offenses, adds additional flexibility to the suspensions triggered by the points system, and modified the time to expunge points from a trainer’s record.  It is expected to go into effect in four to six weeks…

Sage Policy Group CEO Anirban Basu presented the Commission the results of his firm’s study of the horse industry’s econmic impact in Maryland.  Saying that the industry support 9,100 jobs and more than $1.1 billion in economic activity, Basu said, “What we really had to do was put the industry on a level playing field [via slot machine revenues].  Having done that, we are now winning…”

The Commission approved a recommendation from its insurance brokers to award the annual Jockey Injury Compensation Fund policy to the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company at a cost of $860,000, down from last year…

The meeting marked the first for new chairman Michael Algeo and commissioner Konrad Wayson, as well as the swan song for outgoing chairman John McDaniel, who received a standing ovation from those in attendance…