Pimlico to be refurbished -- with an if De Francis seeks state aid in form of slots or a grant

February 03, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis has unveiled a master plan for a major refurbishing at Pimlico Race Course.

At a meeting this week with community leaders and residents of the Pimlico area, De Francis outlined the preliminary concepts for a project that would cost an estimated $75 to $90 million.

Included would be a demolition of the existing stable areas in front of the grandstand and clubhouse, eight new barns on the backside, extensive landscaping and a relocation of the paddock and jockeys' quarters outside the main plant.

The Preakness barn would be adjacent to the new paddock and would be used for horses only during Preakness week. The rest of the year, it would house memorabilia and museum-type items.

The hitch is that the project is tied to financial assistance from the state -- either in the form of a grant or the installation of slot-machine wagering at Maryland tracks.

De Francis again strongly repudiated a published report last week that said he is exploring other sites for the Preakness.

"It's our strongest desire to stay here for as long as we're around," he told a group assembled in Pimlico's Triple Crown Room. "This is a critically important part of our plan. It's the second-oldest track in America, and its history and tradition cannot be duplicated anywhere else."

De Francis denied that the tracks have monetary difficulties at the moment but said "if we don't get some help, two or three years down the road, we're going to be in serious trouble. Right now, death is not at our door."

The phenomenal success of slot wagering at Delaware Park is already adding pressure to the Maryland horse industry. When that track opens in April, its overnight purse offerings will have doubled, and the forecast calls for more increases.

Purse increases will attract horses from elsewhere, and Pimlico's spring meet always faced a shortage of runners even before this threat developed. If the horses migrate to Delaware, fans will follow.

De Francis plans to plead his case for the money when the state legislature addresses the Racing Reform Act of 1996, presumably next week.

The upgrading of Pimlico will require the acquisition of scattered lots and "five or six homes" on the Rogers Avenue side of the track, according to De Francis.

"We think we can work up a plan where this facility will become one of the great showplaces of racing," he said. "But the cost is extremely high and we will need help."

Racing canceled

Live thoroughbred racing at Laurel Park was canceled yesterday because of the weather. Only simulcast wagering was conducted at the track. A decision on today's card will be made this morning. A field of 10 older sprinters is scheduled to vie in the feature, the $50,000-added Hoover Stakes at six furlongs.

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