#US RACING: Final Preakness At Pimlico Before Rebuilding


Preakness days in recent years have featured water and plumbing miscues. A large section of the grandstand at Pimlico Race Course has been rendered unusable because it's condemned, and much of the rest of the storied but decaying track is a relic to the sport of king's heyday many yesteryears ago.

The home of the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown had become something of an eyesore, far from the glitzy palace of Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.

The 149th rendition of the Preakness on Saturday will be the last before a massive reconstruction project begins at Pimlico, and with that brings a mix of nostalgia over the vaunted venue but also hope for the future because fixing up the old place has been long overdue.

Tom Rooney, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and a long time staple of the industry in Maryland, knows all too well the contrasting feelings as someone who attends the Preakness annually sitting in the clubhouse at Pimlico, which first opened in 1870 and hasn't gotten significant upgrades since the mid-20th century.

"You want to feel nostalgic, but then you look up at the ceiling and you worry that it's going to fall in on you," Rooney said. "It's kind of a bittersweet year, but I think the people are going to be very proud of the final result in a couple years."

After more than a decade of uncertainty and questions about what would become of the Preakness and racing in the state, Gov Wes Moore last week signed into law a bill for a US$400 million rebuild. The complicated process involves Maryland taking over control of the track, building a training centre and eventually closing Laurel Park to shift full-time racing to Pimlico in the northwest quadrant of Baltimore.

For those who tune in once a year when the sport's spotlight shines on it for the Preakness, it means an abrupt shift, with the race being moved to Laurel Park down the interstate halfway to Washington in 2026 before a planned return to Pimlico in 2027, much like the Belmont Stakes' two-year hiatus at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York while the Long Island track is completely revamped. The hope is to restore some of the Preakness glory that faded with Pimlico's deteriorating conditions.

Wayne Lukas, who has trained a Preakness-record 46 horses, won it six times and has two more running in it this weekend, is glad officials have worked to keep the race in Maryland, in Baltimore and at Pimlico.

"I can appreciate the fact they're going to start over with it," the 88-year-old Hall of Famer said.



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