Earlier this year, Maryland's biggest city had asked a court to grant ownership of the Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness race to Baltimore through condemnation. The lawsuit had dramatically ratcheted up a dispute over whether the Preakness would continue to be run at crumbling Pimlico or at a fresher Maryland track, the owner's favored Laurel Park.
The Pimlico course and Laurel Park are both owned by Stronach, a Canadian company that owns several other U.S. tracks including the Santa Anita Park in California. But Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young disclosed Wednesday that the city has withdrawn its condemnation action against the Stronach Group, the Maryland Jockey Club and others following a "productive discussion" he recently had with the Canadian company's president.
"I am pleased that we have reached this withdrawal agreement and standstill with the Maryland Jockey Club and the Stronach Group to give the parties an opportunity to discuss Pimlico and racing in Maryland," Young said in a statement.
He stressed that City Hall is "committed to keeping the Preakness in Baltimore." City leaders have been seeking state funding to redevelop the 149-year-old track and the surrounding Park Heights neighborhood.
However, a push to have Laurel Park host the second leg of the Triple Crown doesn't appear to be going away. The rundown Pimlico course is desperately in need of a major overhaul, and Baltimore city officials, the owners of the track and many trainers disagree on whether it's smart to spend nearly half a billion dollars on upgrades. Last year, a study by the Maryland Stadium Authority said the Pimlico Race Course should be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million.
Meanwhile, the old Baltimore track has fallen into further disarray as Stronach has steered renovation funding toward Laurel Park, which it hopes to transform into a state-of-the-art facility. Citing the "safety and security of all guests and employees," the Maryland Jockey Club closed off 6,670 seats in the Pimlico grandstand before this year's Preakness race, and many of the barns are dilapidated. A water main break on Preakness Day shut down many of the toilets last month.
In the city's statement Wednesday, company president Belinda Stronach was quoted as saying the executives appreciated the withdrawal of the suit and looked forward to working with city and state officials in finally resolving the matter.
State law requires the Preakness Stakes to be run at Pimlico. It may only be run elsewhere in Maryland as a result of a "disaster or emergency." The Kentucky Derby — held each year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky — and the Belmont Stakes run at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, make up the other top thoroughbred races of the Triple Crown.
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