BALTIMORE — Sal Sinatra, vice president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, confirmed Saturday that a future Preakness at Laurel is a real possibility. Even a Preakness run on Sunday at Laurel.
"It could be, yes," Sinatra said.
Frank Stronach, who owns Magna Entertainment, which owns both Pimlico and Laurel Race Course in Maryland, has said he wants to make improvements similar to the ones he's made at Santa Anita in California and Gulfstream in Florida. Stronach sent Tim Ritvo, the president of Gulfstream, to Maryland to explore Magna's options.
A problem has been what to do with Pimlico, home of the Preakness. The facility is more than showing its age and is in need of upgrades. Does Stronach want to pour money into the track, which is landlocked and not in the best of Baltimore areas? Or does he want to consolidate efforts at Laurel.
"My real goal is to get this business back to zero and into the positive," Sinatra said. "If I can do that without disrupting Pimlico and Laurel, that's my wish. Nostalgia to me as a racing guy is that the Preakness and Pimlico stays here. But if I can't do that and we need to fix something, that may change. Frank really wants to do something in Maryland, something grand."
Pimlico has historic value. This is the 140th running of the Preakness. There is more acreage at Laurel, almost 300 acres compared to 150 at Pimlico. And the building at Laurel is in better shape.
"This building is old," Sinatra said of Pimlico while standing in the press box. "You can't just add suites and stuff to it. It's almost a rebuild here where Laurel is a pretty healthy building. Laurel you can renovate. So that plays into it as well. So I'd say right now Laurel is in the lead if there's only going to be one (facility)."
As for moving the Preakness to Sunday?
"Tim (Ritvo) and I talked about that," Sinatra said. "I'm a believer in running the big days when people are off. That's why I brought Sunday racing back to Laurel. You look at the Black-Eyed Susan day which was an incredible card. We did well but to me it was an extremely bettable, bettable card and on a Friday, while we did very well, I think that card could really do more."
When could this conceivably happen?
"Probably by next year," Sinatra said. "We could run those two, make a festival out of it, a three-day weekend. Not to lose the Friday but to try and build out on it."
In a perfect world, both Laurel and Pimlico would operate, said Sinatra.
"Everything is on the table," he said. "There are things that we can do to try and keep both alive. The nostalgic Pimlico with the Preakness and have our staunch year-round facility be at Laurel."
But Sinatra also said he thinks the Preakness could draw big crowds at Laurel, as well.
"I still think the core people would stay in Baltimore, that's where the nightlife is, that's where the restaurants and hotels are," he said. "They could take the train in. It would be easier to get in and out than it would here. That's one of the advantages."
As for probable objections from Baltimore politicians, Sinatra said, "Frank wants to do something special in Maryland. "If we can keep the Preakness here and run even a Keeneland-style meet here, 18 days with a festival or whatever, and build down at Laurel some grand facility, that's a win-win for Maryland racing."
Sinatra said an answer could be coming in the next few months.
"I think I'll know by the end of the year if it's going to be Laurel or not," Sinatra said. "And then if it is Laurel, then (the Preakness) probably would be on a Sunday. I don't think this is the last Preakness here, that's for sure even if we did decide that. Whatever work they have to do at Laurel is not going to happen overnight."