Preakness Day attendees enter Pimlico Race Course

Preakness Day attendees enter Pimlico Race Course

Anne M. Eberhardt

Ritvo: Preakness Could Become Elite Event at Laurel

Baltimore racetrack's future hinges on a report from the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The message from Tim Ritvo was clear during his yearly media session ahead of the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1).

The Stronach Group's chief operating officer didn't provide anything outside of the box from what he's said in recent years about possibly moving the second leg of the Triple Crown to Laurel Park, but there was something different. The words were essentially the same, but there was a sense of finality.

The only thing that will keep Pimlico Race Course in business is if the Preakness stays. The only thing that will keep the Preakness at Pimlico, however, is if the racetrack gets revamped or rebuilt by the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is expected later in the year to issue the second part of its two-part report to "guide the City of Baltimore and state (of Maryland) in determining the extent of its potential support to renovate or rebuild Pimlico Race Course to remain the long-term home for the Preakness Stakes."

If the Stadium Authority wants the Preakness to stay at Pimlico, Baltimore and Maryland will have to foot the bill, Ritvo said. That would cost about $250-322 million, according to the first leg of the Stadium Authority report, which was released in February. The Stronach Group also owns Laurel.

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"We've made it pretty clear that we're not going to put any funds into it," Ritvo said. "One, we don't have any funds to put into it. We're a privately owned company that has no debt, and we're in good shape. But at the same time, we're not going to pour millions and millions of dollars—hundreds of millions of dollars—into the facility here and continue to renovate Laurel.

"I say 'city and state' because I don't think the city would have the funds to do it, either. ... We're not here holding a gun to anybody's head or looking for a handout. We're saying we'll go to Laurel, and we're still in the state of Maryland, and we'll give you a better experience."

When asked whether he, personally, would prefer the Preakness at Laurel, Ritvo initially paused, then answered in the affirmative.

"That's a hard question to answer," the executive said. "From what I know now, yes. ... But if somebody was to spend ($300-$500) million on a facility here, I'd probably start to like this place, too."

The political and legislative hurdles of moving the Preakness could be significant, but Ritvo said, if pressed, Laurel could be ready to host the race in 2020.

"If we had to, we could have it in 2020," Ritvo said. "If we knew by the end of this year, we could be ready in 2020—but, realistically, 2021."

The Preakness at Laurel would be noticeably different. Infield activities, a Preakness staple at Pimlico, would not be possible at Laurel, and Ritvo said the facility would likely be limited to 75,000-80,000 fans for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"If anything, it (would lean toward) more premium-quality seats," he said. "We don't want to leave the small customer that likes to pay a $50 venue fee to get in and see it, but it seems that's the direction the industry is going."