Maryland to Resume Racing While Plans for Pimlico & Laurel Redo Proceed

May 28, 2020

The Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) will seek approval from the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) to commence live racing at the Commission’s monthly meeting on Thursday. Racing would begin Saturday, May 30, for the first day of the Laurel Park condition book published without dates March 8. Entries already have been drawn.

The industry fully expects official approval of proposed 15 racing days from the MRC to be granted at the meeting. The second day of the condition book, for which entries have been drawn, is expected to be Sunday, May 31. The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) will provide an update after the meeting.

Highlighting the condition book is the highly anticipated seasonal debut of racing over Laurel’s world-class turf course. Six grass races are in the book for the first day, including a $40,000 maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles and both a $55,000 open allowance and $47,000 optional claiming allowance at 5 ½ furlongs – all for fillies and mares 3 and up.

A total of 148 races and 42 substitute races are in the spring condition book, including 71 turf races. It was put together by Jillian Tullock, who worked in several capacities for the MJC from 1994-2019, including assistant racing secretary under Georganne Hale, before being appointed racing secretary March 5.

Click here to view the 2020 spring condition book.

The MJC will ask for approval to conduct spectator-free racing as is being conducted throughout the U.S. and in many parts of the world. Over the past several weeks the Commission has supported lobbying efforts by the state’s racing industry to re-open, based on protocols that have been put in place at tracks that have been allowed to open up in other states such as Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and the upcoming Belmont and Keeneland meets. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state was proceeding with the “completion of its stage-one re-opening plan” at a press conference on Wednesday night, citing large declines in the “positivity rate” in the state over the past two weeks. The announcement included state approvals for the openings of a wider swath of businesses in the state, including restaurants and bars.

“We’re taking the best advice we can, we’re following the best guidelines,” Hogan said. “We developed a plan and we’re following the plan, and we think we’ve got it about right.”

The MRC adopted several regulations before live racing was suspended in mid-March, and the MTHA and the MJC approved other changes designed to assist horsemen in advance of the resumption of live racing. The notices and reminders are available here.

Laurel Park, which is owned by The Stronach Group, held its last live race on March 20, after being ordered shut-down by the state government. The track had begun to hold races spectator-free a week earlier.

As of June 1, legislation that passed without the Governor’s signature becomes law. Under the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, ownership of Laurel Park will transfer to Anne Arundel County and/or an entity appointed by the County. Pimlico will likewise become the property of Baltimore City and/or whomever they appoint.

As such on May 22, the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a request for proposals to Architectural and Engineering Services Firms for the redevelopment of the Pimlico Racing and Laurel Park Racing facilities. 

MSA is requesting an Expression of Interest (EOI) from experienced A/E firms that are qualified to lead the design efforts for the construction of the Pimlico Racing and Laurel Park Racing facilities. 

Pursuant to the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, the Maryland Stadium Authority is authorized to finance up to $375 million for the planning, design, and construction of the Pimlico Racing and Laurel Park Racing facilities (collectively the “Projects”). 

The Projects include construction and improvements of the barns, clubhouses, event centers, dormitories or other housing, equine diagnostic and health facilities, museums, training facilities, stables, tracks, infield areas, turf areas, green space, and roadways.

Please click on the link to access the Request for Expression of Interest. https://mdstad.sharefile.com/d-sf35995e30d143289

The legislation allows up to $375 million worth of bonds to be issued for the projects. The Maryland Stadium Authority would borrow money upfront to pay for most of the work, in the form of bonds that would be sold on the market. Those bonds would be paid back over 30 years using $17 million per year from the Maryland Lottery.

The lottery would be replenished from three sources:

– $5 million annually in money from slot money from the Purse Dedication Account (PDA) referred to as the “horsemen’s contribution.”

– $3.5 million annually in slots money that had been going to community aid in Baltimore.

– $8.5 million annually from the slots-funded Racetrack Facility Renewal Account (RFRA), money that had been set aside for facility capital improvements (due to sunset in 2035).

– The project also would use about $24 million that will be built up and sitting in the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account by March 2021 and $17 million in a one-time payout from the Maryland lottery.

Under Maryland law, the state’s horsemen receive subsidies from slots to supplement purses (PDA), while The Stronach Group receives grants from slots revenues to fund capital improvements (RFRA), as long as plans are submitted beforehand, all terms and deadlines are met and those funds are matched by the company. 

The proposal would allow those subsidies to be used to underwrite the bonds, which would have a 30-year maturation. That would require a change in existing state law, which guarantees the slots subsidies through the end of 2035, covering less than half of the 30-year term of the proposed bond.

The plan also calls for a break on the sales tax for construction equipment and other materials that will be used in redeveloping of both facilities. Lawmakers have approved a similar sales tax exemption for other large projects in the state.

Laurel Park Goes First

For Laurel, The Stronach Group (TSG) would enter into a ground-lease arrangement with Anne Arundel County or a county-designated entity that would run for at least 30 years. The company would have the option of regaining full ownership of the property at the end of the lease.

Renovated first, Laurel would continue to be the focus of year-round racing in Maryland. Laurel will function as a supertrack and year-round training facility with a Tapeta track added between the turf and dirt tracks, a new modern clubhouse and all new barns and backstretch. The iconic Laurel paddock will be saved and repurposed.

All of Laurel’s 193 acres will be dedicated to development related to the track. There will be a modern, state-of-the-art grandstand built with all new barns and backstretch. In addition, there will be a new MARC train station built and bridges connecting the racetrack facility to the new TSG-owned Laurel Park Station multi-use development on the other side of the station. 

Click here to view the Laurel Concept Plans

Total Project Costs =$173,365,000:

+ Demolition, Infrastructure, Site Work =  $47,917,000

+ Barns, Training, Backstretch = $57,270,000

+Clubhouse and Paddock = $68,178,000

Pimlico’s Turn and The Preakness Is Still Running

TSG would turn Pimlico over to Baltimore City or a city-approved entity such as the Maryland Stadium Authority. Then Pimlico gets a complete overhaul in 2023 and 2024 with the Preakness being held there during construction. Only half of Pimlico’s 110 acres will be related to the racing. Instead of racing-focused, Pimlico would be renovated into a multiuse facility that would be used most of the year for youth sports, festivals and other events.

Pimlico’s expansive physical plant, including the clubhouse built in 1959, and grandstand built in 1922, 1954 and 1959, will be will be leveled and replaced with a much smaller glass civic center/clubhouse surrounded by commercial development on approximately 50% of the property. Proposed are multi-use housing, a hotel and parking garage for use by Sinai Hospital and a grocery store.

The racing oval dirt and turf tracks will be rotated and shortened to 15/16th of a mile with two chutes. The infield will contain multiple athletic fields, berms, a pond and footbridge.

The facility will cease to operate as a year-round training facility, will have no barns or dorm quarters on the backstretch. Ship in temporary stables and accommodations will be constructed for the Preakness meet.

According to plans released in October 2019, the new clubhouse would not have fixed seating and would be a hospitality area for guests in reserve grandstand seats. For the Preakness capacity is estimated at 51,500 including various suite and reserved seating options trackside and turfside including accommodations for 8,000 in an infield picnic area, 12,000 reserved seats along the home stretch and 20,000 general admission tickets for access to the infield.

Click here to view the Pimlico Concept Plans

Total Project Costs = $199,547,000:

+ Demolition, Infrastructure, Site Work =  $101,302,000

+ Tracks, Infield, Community Spaces = $33,099,000

+ Multi-purpose Clubhouse and Events Center = $65,146,000

The Stronach Group, operating as the Maryland Jockey Club, will receive a license to operate racing at the two tracks contingent upon adhering to current state laws and regulations. MJC would be required to have at least 180 racing days each year, between Laurel and Pimlico.

TSG will enter into a 30-year lease agreement for the Preakness meet consisting of approximately two months for set up and breakdown of temporary overlay facilities for the event. TSG would cover the estimated cost of $10 million per year for the overlay. After 30 years or when the bonds are paid off TSG will have the option to repurchase the property. 

Photo: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club 

Contributing Authors

MB Kalinich

Maribeth Kalinich is a racing enthusiast and historian who writes about current racing events, Thoroughbred history and preservation of historic racing sites. Growing up in...

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@jonathanstettin That was damn near evangelical. You’re one of the few experts a novice like me can depend on. Keep up the good work!

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