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Pimlico's Owners Look to Ride Preakness Out of Town

AP Photo/Nick Wass

It was probably difficult to see on television Saturday, what with all that fog and mist that enveloped Pimlico, but a few seconds after Justify won the Preakness, another horse crossed the finish line.

This horse, however, is far older than the field of three year-olds in the race, but know this: If Justify has this horse’s stamina, he’ll win the Belmont and thus the Triple Crown going away in less than three weeks.

In a nod to the group, America, this horse has no name, per se, but rather a theme, namely that Pimlico Race Course is in trouble.

Indeed, that horse’s current jockey, Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, turned in a bravura performance Saturday, maneuvering that theme from starting gate to the post.

Ritvo wasted no time telling an assembled group of reporters that Stronach, a Canadian-based horse-racing company, has just about used up all its patience with the 147-year-old Pimlico.

Ritvo went hard to the whip in laying out the shortcomings of Pimlico.

In places, Pimlico, the second oldest active track in the United States, does show its maturity, in large measure because it has been allowed to age in a not-so-graceful way.

Besides its age, Pimlico suffers, from Ritvo’s perspective, because of its location, tucked in the struggling Park Heights neighborhood.

Upper Northwest Baltimore is not an area where suburbanites feel comfortable visiting, save for that third Saturday in May.

Then, they can either flaunt their wealth wearing gaudy hats in opulent corporate tents or their obnoxiousness, binging and purging alcohol in the infield.

Towards that end, Ritvo has suggested that Stronach would prefer to aim its largesse towards its track at Laurel Park.

For a decade now, the company has aimed its dollars toward the 300-acre Prince George’s County facility.

That track lends itself away from the hoi polloi that have historically been horse racing’s fandom and more toward the corporate tent crowd.

Ritvo suggested Saturday that a Preakness crowd of 75 to 80-thousand would be acceptable over, say, the more than 137-thousand who turned out in the rain and mist Saturday, on the theory that the smaller number will bring bigger money.

And, in the end, that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? The history of Pimlico and the need to help a besieged area turn itself around all take a backseat to cash.

Ritvo has said that Stronach will not spend what it believes will be hundreds of millions to refurbish Pimlico, clearly implying that that money will have to come from state and municipal funds.

If that’s the case, then you might as well start shipping the ponies and fillies down I-95, especially in this current political climate.

There might be a solution. In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for state-sanctioned sports betting, Ritvo has said that Stronach wants to place a sports book at its facilities.

And the Maryland legislature should grant Ritvo his wish in Maryland, provided that book goes exclusively to Pimlico, which would be refurbished with funds provided jointly by the state, the city and Stronach.

That’s a winning ticket for all sides.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.