BALTIMORE — Pimlico racecourse has been falling apart since long before the 21st century began, which the chief operating officer of the group that owns the track readily admitted Saturday.
Tim Ritvo is the main racing executive for all of the tracks owned by the Stronach Group. It also runs Laurel Race Course, located in Maryland in the suburbs of Washington. If he had his way, the Preakness would be moved to Laurel sometime in the near future.
Five consecutive days of rain magnified Pimlico’s problems on by far its biggest day.
“We’ve got leaks everywhere, and we’ve got tiles falling from the ceiling onto people’s tables,” Ritvo told reporters.
Ritvo said the Stronach Group has no interest in spending “300 or 400 million” to make the needed improvements at Pimlico while it’s continuing to refurbish Laurel.
“Now if somebody [else] put 300 or 400 million into Pimlico, I’d probably like this place more, “ he said. “From a business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense for [the Stronach Group] to pour millions into It.”
Asked directly if he’d rather have the second leg of the Triple Crown at Laurel, Ritvo said, “From what I know now, yes.”
Maryland politicians would have to approve a massive economic bailout for the track that has staged every Preakness starting in 1873. Ritvo said that if Pimlico lost the Preakness, there probably would be no racing there anymore.
Ritvo ticked off reasons why Laurel would be a much better fit.
“We would give fans a more prestigious experience at Laurel,” he said. “It has a fine dirt track, two nice turf courses, and it would be nice to be able to have a horse race where you could see what was happening on the backstretch.”
At Pimlico, corporate tents block the view from the track apron and the first floor.
One negative would be a smaller crowd at Laurel, which unlike Pimlico lacks an infield that could fit a significant percentage of the attendance. Preakness crowds routinely exceed 140,000, while Ritvo estimated Laurel “would have a smaller attendance, more like 75,000 or 80,000.”
To Ritvo, a major upgrade for the Preakness’ venue would be the key. “The fan experience for an event of this magnitude can’t be what we want it to be at this facility,” he said.