“Pimlico Plus” bill has lengthy first hearing

A bill that would enable the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority’s (MTROA) “Pimlico Plus” plan to move forward received a probing but generally favorable reception in a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday in Annapolis.

The legislation, HB 1524, was introduced by Ways and Means chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) earlier this month and referred to Ways and Means and to Appropriations. It must pass both houses of the legislature by April 8, which is the final day of the session.

More than a dozen lawmakers questioned Eric Luedtke, Gov. Wes Moore’s Chief Legislative Officer, and MTROA chairman Greg Cross and executive director Marc Broady during a hearing that went on for more than 90 minutes. Many of the questions focused on the impact of the investment in Pimlico – required by the legislation to be at least $250 million – on the surrounding Park Heights neighborhood and whether sufficient moneys were targeted there.

But while much of the discussion had to do with degrees of support and modification of focus, on one issue – remarkably enough, an internecine squabble – the sides appear to be far apart.

The bill would repurpose $1.2 million annually, according to Cross, from racetrack facilities funds earmarked for Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington to debt service for the Pimlico Plus plan. While the Stronach Group, which owns both the Maryland Jockey Club and Rosecroft and has previously sought to sell Rosecroft, apparently does not oppose the provision, other standardbred interests do.

A delegation of four people representing the standardbred industry, including Ocean Downs general manager Bobbi Jones, Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association president Jonathan Roberts, and Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association president Jackie Macleod appeared at the hearing to urge legislators to reject or modify the legislation, HB 1524.

“I’m extremely disheartened that you would do this at the expense of the standardbred industry,” Roberts told the committee during his remarks.

In recent years, Rosecroft’s sale and ultimate closure have at times appeared imminent, though the track has weathered the storms and continues to operate. Because of its seemingly precarious position, standardbred interests have fashioned an agreement with Ocean Downs to transfer a substantial portion of Rosecroft’s live days to that track if Rosecroft does close.

“We will need the standardbred [racetrack facilities] matching funds to winterize our racing infrastructure,” Jones said.

While standardbred interests received a sympathetic hearing – especially from Del. Wayne Hartman (R-Wicomico and Worcester), in whose district Ocean Downs is located – their concerns appear more likely to lead to amendment, if anywhere, rather than to derailing the legislation.

The bill has the backing of Gov. Wes Moore (D), along with House and Senate leadership, and it was introduced by Ways and Means Chair Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard). It is widely perceived as both solving the long-festering problem of Pimlico while also promoting economic growth in the Park Heights neighborhood.

Calling Pimlico and the future of the Preakness “an issue that this committee has been grappling with as long as I’ve been in and around Annapolis,” Luedtke, the former House majority leader now working in the Moore administration, told the committee that passage of the bill is the action necessary “for us to continue to sustain the industry.”


The legislation itself, described in an interview by MTROA member Alan Foreman as “more of a clean-up bill” modifying earlier legislation, is not especially dramatic. But its passage is necessary to enable the MTROA to implement what Cross called “an entirely new approach” for the Thoroughbred industry’s future.

That future, the Pimlico Plus concept, would see the Thoroughbred industry concentrated at one racing facility, Pimlico, with an additional training center to support year-round racing. The training center is expected to be at one of three locations: the old Bowie training center, Shamrock Farm in Woodbine, or the Mitchell Farm property in Harford County.

HB 1524 allows the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $400 million in bonds for the projects to renovate Pimlico and acquire and build a training center and directs that at least $250 million of the funds be spent at Pimlico.

What’s more, Cross told the legislators, its passage will set in action a series of agreements hammered out in recent months by the MTROA and the Stronach Group. They will allow not only the physical projects to proceed but also facilitate a change in racing management from a private, for-profit entity structure to a state ownership-nonprofit management structure.

Cross enumerated the agreements. They include:

  • “Pimlico will transfer to the state of Maryland on July 1 for a dollar;
  • “The MTROA’s operating entity will be permitted to use Laurel racetrack rent-free for three years while Pimlico is rebuilt;
  • “All Preakness and Maryland horse racing memorabilia currently owned by the Maryland Jockey Club will be transferred to the state, with the Woodlawn Vase being made available on permanent loan;
  • “The Stronach group will transfer to the MTROA operating entity all rights to conduct day-to-day racing in Maryland commencing January 1, 2025, and the new 501 (c) (4) operator will continue to employ virtually all the people currently employed by the Maryland Jockey Club;
  • “Lastly, the state will hold a perpetual license to run the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Stakes beginning in 2027.”

That last, the license to run the state’s two biggest racing days, will cost the MTROA $3 million per year, plus two percent of handle, according to Cross’s testimony. In 2023, the combined handle for the two days was $130 million.

If the MTROA were to decide not to conduct the Preakness, the Stronach Group could do so at Pimlico, with the sides employing a model similar to that used by the Breeders’ Cup.

Some legislators’ concerns focused on the long string of fits and starts that have plagued both the rebuilding of Pimlico and the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood.

“For years I hear about promises being made to the communities around there,” Del. Dalya Nattar (D-Baltimore City) said during the hearing. “The last six years when I’ve been in office, I’ve been part of the one making the promises over and over again to the communities. At this point, it’s just not fair, and it’s not right.”

Cross, acknowledging failed efforts “back to the 1970s,” said he sees something new.

“Despite best intentions, [previous Pimlico renovation efforts] all failed, largely, in my opinion, because they were always half-steps and because, at the end of the day, the state lacked control over the implementation,” he said. “This time is different. We will be investing unencumbered by the past, at a time when the industry is undergoing change and making investments that account for those changes… The MTROA believes that if this legislation is enacted, it will position the industry to succeed for the next 100 years.”