It’s over, obviously.
The last real hope (and it was still a Hail Mary) of Baltimore keeping the Preakness long term was for strong Baltimore leadership to successfully compel state leadership to not waver on the state law that prevents the Preakness from being run anywhere but Baltimore, save for emergency. That strong leadership needed to compel state politicians into understanding that while a move to Laurel, Md., would keep the race in the state, it would cost the state significant money because a significant amount of tourism money would shift to Washington, D.C., with the race’s move.
That push came up lame before it even got out of the starter’s gate.
As former Mayor Catherine Pugh was (rightfully) brought down by the “Healthy Holly” scandal, the hope of “strong Baltimore leadership” went right along with it. With all due respect to Mayor Jack Young, a stand-in leader arriving in the midst of overwhelming turmoil wouldn’t even get 100-1 odds to get this to the finish line.
That, combined with the closing of Pimlico’s northern grandstand, has given the track’s owners a clear path to relocating the classic American race. Without strong leadership in the city to fight back, the state will likely work with The Stronach Group to negotiate around the state law. Remember, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has never really been of the belief that what’s best for a state’s biggest city is best for the state (see Line, Red), and earlier this year he told WBAL he believed “the overwhelming number of people in Maryland don’t really care where [the Preakness] is. They would just like to keep it in Maryland.”
No matter how true or untrue that statement is — and it’s not at all unreasonable to assume it’s significantly true in many places of the state that aren’t Baltimore — Hogan was reelected by an overwhelming majority and enjoys a significant approval rate. There’s been no major pushback to his comments and no reason to believe they won’t be a basis for his policy decisions.
But even if the state were to put up some sort of fight, the condition of the grandstand — which we all know isn’t the only infrastructure issue at the Pimlico facility — will certainly become a ploy to allow the owners their chance to pursue the wiggle room that exists within the “only as a result of a disaster or emergency” phrasing in that law. While deteriorating facilities aren’t a natural disaster, the argument will be strong that it has become an emergency to no longer run the race there.
I repeat, it’s over. And it will hurt us. Badly.
An event that has been estimated to be worth $50 million not only can’t quickly be replaced, it can’t be replaced at all. And it will hurt the state, too. As mentioned earlier, undoubtedly some of the incoming money that has gone to various Maryland businesses will now trickle toward the District because visiting spenders will choose to make D.C. their base for the week since Laurel is so close. And the “potential” costs may be just as harmful as the tangible ones, with the city losing invaluable publicity forever.
Strangely, some will celebrate this moment. The short-mindedness of such opinions is staggering. Yes, the city has bigger problems than “just a horse race,” per se. At no point should the fight to keep the Preakness have distracted anyone from continuing to pursue better schools, an improved economy and more. Some of us believe an event worth $50 million annually could help address other significant problems.
Others in the area will hope the consistent, sustained failures of Baltimore politicians to fix Pimlico and save Preakness long term might lead to the city changing its mind about the political party that has held the city’s executive position since the 1960s. Can you even imagine that? Rooting for something to happen that would be terrible for the city in the long-shot hope that it can get your political party an office it hasn’t held for five decades?
Look, if there’s any fight to still be fought, I support it. I think this is a disaster for our city. I don’t care whose fault it is or it isn’t. It’s a mess, and the fight has always been one worth putting up.
I just don’t think there’s actually a fight anymore. I think it’s over. And it’s borderline criminal that we’ve let it happen.
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox
Issue 254: May 2019
Originally published May 15, 2019