Pimlico Race Course
I created a page on Facebook five years ago in May the week after the 2015 Preakness. It’s called “Friends of Pimlico” but it started as “Save Pimlico.” A friend suggested the former was a more “friendly,” accessible title. American Pharoah was 2/3 of the way to a Triple Crown and the Preakness leaving Pimlico was still a topic of discussion in the media and on Preakness day. It had been every year at Preakness time for 20 years.
The purpose of the page was to bring awareness, to keep Pimlico open, keep the Preakness running there and preserve the history of both. Mission accomplished on the first and second points, sort of. But not so much on number three. Five years later I have over 4,000 followers for my little grassroots movement and a “partner-in-crime” helping me run the page and the movement, April Smith, a Pimlico historian.
In five years we’ve seen two Triple Crown winners with record attendance and record handle at the Preakness. And we’ve written countless correspondences to countless officials, attended a multitude of meetings and sat through endless legislative hearings.
Maryland racing went into 2015 hopeful with funding from slots and a plan on paper under the 10-year deal. Then two studies of Pimlico were conducted over three years. They found Pimlico viable in one, expendable in the other. Just as those wrapped up legislation was proposed to fund $175 million Laurel Park renovations. In between we had lawsuits to accomplish what this new law does — puts Pimlico in the hands of Baltimore City. But as we all know that legislation failed. And politicians fall. Exit Mayor Pugh.
Preakness 2019 something magical happened. New Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, Anne Arundel County Exec Steuart Pittman and Belinda Stronach had cocktails at the Chalet and voila! A deal. It was kismet. Oh, lawsuit dropped.
Five months later (two lawyers and a politician walked into a bar…) a bold new plan was announced to save Pimlico. But only the inner 50 acres. And throw out all of the history. They razed paradise and put up a big glass box.
This island of what was once “Old Hilltop” will be ringed by commercial development. Retail, multi-use housing. Gone will be the quirky roofline of the hodgepodge clubhouse and grandstands — old and older. Gone will be the cupola replica in the infield built in 1962 for a movie star. Gone will be the 4 ton golden horses on the clubhouse wall.
What we will lose leveling and rebuilding Pimlico is innumerable. But that’s tangible history deserving a museum. What can’t be conserved is the essence, the spirit of Pimlico. The courageous champions who have thundered across the finish line. The great jockeys who have steered them home. Storied trainers with the vision to bring out the best in both at the right moment in time.
The millions of fans whose voices still echo in the grandstands. The backstretch workers whose sweat still lies in the sands of Pimlico’s dirt track with the ashes of many who wished to be remembered there.
Yes, I got what we wanted. Pimlico will stay, in some form but without horses or a backstretch. And the Preakness will run there according to the law and the new agreement in this new law. The question for now is when?
So happy 150th Anniversary Pimlico. Let’s hope the 145th Preakness this year is one wild and wonderful celebration. Even without InfieldFest.
Always a friend of Pimlico