Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach.

Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Stronach: Pimlico Should Be Leveled, Rebuilt

In his first public comments about specific plans for Maryland racing, Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach said the company will tear down Pimlico Race Course and build a new track on the same site.

"I think the whole track needs to be torn down," Stronach said. "Pimlico must remain; there's too much tradition involved. But it would be totally rebuilt from scratch. We would flatten it completely."

Stronach reached agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club to buy a majority share of Pimlico and Laurel Park. Stronach made the comments during an interview with the Baltimore Sun Aug. 3.

He said he'd like to see the demolition of Pimlico begin immediately after the 2003 Preakness Stakes in May. Then, in 2004, the Preakness would be held at Laurel Park as a new Pimlico is constructed for the 2005 Preakness, Stronach said.

Though Magna has agreed to buy 51% of Pimlico and Laurel in a deal valued at $117.5 million, the sale must be approved by the Maryland Racing Commission. Several commissioners have expressed skepticism about Magna's entrée into Maryland; they cite unfulfilled promises at some of the 14 tracks Magna has bought or agreed to buy in the past four years.

Commission chairman Lou Ulman said Stronach's plan could be "a great thing" for Maryland. "It sounds like something that, if done properly, would preserve Pimlico and be great for the city and great for Maryland racing," he said. "But clearly, we would want to make sure if he tears down Pimlico he doesn't for whatever reason, decide not to rebuild it."

Stronach said he would do whatever was necessary to offer such assurances. "We'll put up a bond or anything," Stronach said. "We'll go way out of our way to assure people--the racing commission, horsemen--that we're committed to Pimlico. The racing world will look at us by what we do at Pimlico. It's a top priority."

Joe De Francis, president and chief executive officer of the MJC, led Stronach on a tour of Pimlico, Laurel, and the Bowie Training Center four days after the Magna-MJC deal was announced July 15.