Baltimore’s dilapidated Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes for the past 150 years, would undergo a massive revitalization and be owned by a newly formed, nonprofit state entity under the terms of a plan announced Friday by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) that would transform the horse racing industry in the state.
Under the terms of the new plan, the latest in a long line of proposals designed to rescue the sport in Maryland, Pimlico would be shut down after the 2024 Preakness on May 18 as it undergoes a nearly $400 million renovation, with the 2025 and 2026 editions of the race shifting on an interim basis to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County.
Following the renovation, Pimlico would reopen in 2027 with a year-round schedule featuring as many as 140-160 days of racing, including the Preakness each May, and would include an adjacent hotel, parking garage and 1,000-seat event space. While the renovation of Pimlico itself would be paid for by the state, the other developments would be funded through private investors.
As part of the proposed plan, the Stronach Group, which has owned both courses since 2002, would turn Pimlico over to the state, while retaining and most likely selling or redeveloping Laurel Park for other uses. The Stronach Group, which operates under the name 1/ST Racing, would retain intellectual ownership of the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, and license those rights to the new state operating authority for an undisclosed amount.
Although Moore announced the “framework of an agreement in principle” between the state and the Stronach Group on Friday, the deal will require the approval of the state’s General Assembly and could be subject to additional regulatory and legal maneuvering.
In a statement, Moore thanked Stronach Group officials for “the professionalism and good faith” they brought to the process, and said, “I look forward to working with the General Assembly and the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority to finalize an agreement that ensures this important industry continues to create jobs and drive economic growth for years to come.”
The state-backed redevelopment of Pimlico, if approved, would bring the total taxpayer investment in Baltimore’s sporting infrastructure to roughly $1.8 billion — a figure that includes $1.2 billion revamping of M&T Bank Stadium for the NFL’s Ravens and Camden Yards for MLB’s Orioles. All the projects would be overseen by the Maryland Stadium Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that governors have deployed to build everything from baseball fields to elementary schools.
Pimlico’s fate has been debated in courtrooms and backrooms across Maryland for years, as the Stronach Group sought to move the Preakness Stakes to a better-maintained track and Baltimore power brokers tried to stop it. Tensions peaked in 2019 when then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh sued the Maryland Jockey Club in an attempt to force a city takeover of Pimlico.
By 2020, state lawmakers and the governor passed a plan to issue about $375 million in debt to renovate both Laurel Park and Pimlico, repaid by a dedicated stream of cash from slot machines. But three years later, rising interest rates meant that stream of cash could finance less debt. Under the terms of the new deal, the debt originally meant to refurbish both tracks would all go to Pimlico.
A senior official of Moore’s administration said the bill to approve the new agreement would be presented to the General Assembly for approval this legislative session, which runs from Jan. 10 to April 8.
The new agreement “is in the best interests of both the Pimlico Race Course and the Pimlico neighborhood that surrounds it,” said Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D), who represents the area and who helped launch the study that led to Friday’s announcement. “I will make sure we work hard to get this bill through. It’s a tight budget year, but I think we will be able to make the case that this is an appropriate expenditure of state money.”