Editorials

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This month’s column could pretty much be just two words – Save Pimlico – but I’ll finish the sentence because the old girl deserves a proper explanation. 

Save Pimlico, because of the history.

Save Pimlico, because of the people. 

Save Pimlico, because of the neighborhood.

Save Pimlico, because of the Preakness.

Save Pimlico, because of the infield.

Save Pimlico, because of Seabiscuit and War Admiral, Affirmed and Alydar, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.

Save Pimlico, because of Man o’ War, Secretariat, American Pharoah and Justify.

Save Pimlico, because of Ben’s Cat.

Save Pimlico, because Jim McKay would want us to.

Save Pimlico, because Joe Kelly would want us to.

Save Pimlico, because Alfred Vanderbilt would too.

Save Pimlico, because so would Frank De Francis. 

Save Pimlico, for all those old-timers at the “Dinner Party” in Saratoga. Legend has it, an 1868 dinner party including Maryland Gov. Oden Bowie resulted in the building of Pimlico and the inaugural Dinner Party Stakes at the Baltimore track in 1870. A horse named Preakness won the first running. The Dinner Party became the Reunion and eventually the Dixie, which is still run at the track.

Save Pimlico, because it’s the right thing to do.

Save Pimlico, because it will be awesome.

Save Pimlico, because of the hill which is no longer there (flattened in 1938) but gave “Old Hilltop” its cool nickname. Maybe the new version can include a hill. Long story short, it would be a shame to lose the hill and the track too.

Save Pimlico, because.

Nothing gets resolved in two words except a marriage vow, so I know it’s way more complicated than anything I can write here. A Pimlico revival will take money, leadership, creative thinking, open minds, support from every sector of the state and the Thoroughbred industry.

The world has figured out more complicated things than how to revive an old racetrack and there are plenty of sports models to use – Fenway Park and Wrigley Field come to mind, so does Churchill Downs. 

To somebody somewhere, Pimlico is a developer’s dream. It’s a treasure, on practically hallowed ground and universally appreciated (if maligned). 

Pimlico is old, but special, and the status quo won’t work. The 2018 Preakness was run in another rainstorm, it’s like the racing gods are sad or something, which brought a leaking roof, a saturated turf course, ruts in the dirt track from the all-day shifting of portable walkways. Just for a moment, imagine if Justify (see the cover) had jumped to the right or left, instead of straight ahead, when he saw those ruts. Mike Smith might have ended up in the mud, along with the Triple Crown and Maryland’s racing reputation.

Find the money, make a plan, get help from every stakeholder – state, city, Maryland Jockey Club owner The Stronach Group, Thoroughbred owners, breeders, trainers, fans – and fire up the engineers and urban planners. 

Give the MJC some slack. Pimlico’s owner inherited this beast and can’t be expected to foot the full bill. Nobody with any sense thinks the company should pay for a new Pimlico. Publicly funded sporting venues aren’t all that popular when they’re being discussed, but they work in the long run (see just about any NFL stadium for an example). 

Some say the place is too far gone, too dilapidated to fix, too old, in too shabby of a neighborhood, blah, blah, blah. I say. Pssshhh. More far-fetched ideas than a new Pimlico have been achieved and can be seen all over the region and beyond. 

Maryland’s White Marsh Town Center shopping area used to be a gravel pit. Now people go there to skydive – indoors. The popular Riverfront (restaurants, stores, a minor-league ballpark, a movie theater, apartments and a convention center) in Wilmington, Del., used to be an industrial wasteland and has the old cranes to prove it. Back in 1990, I stood among the twisted debris of a former railroad yard or some such thing and watched Elrod Hendricks, Pete Harnisch and Randy Milligan stage the ceremonial “first” first pitch at what would become Oriole Park at Camden Yards – in uniform and complete with a home plate in the dust and gravel. Baltimore’s Under Armour headquarters used to be a Procter and Gamble soap factory. The company’s new, even bigger, base is being planned for a former railroad terminal at Port Covington. The National Harbor casino property on the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C., used to be a plantation. 

Don’t think of Pimlico as a racetrack, think of it as a developmental project, with a racetrack at its center. 

Then save it.

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