Freakish Preakness Pimlico's wild day: Electrical fire, outage should shed light on questions about horse racing.

May 19, 1998

EVERY DARK cloud may have a silver lining. You'd have to search, though, to find it in this year's Preakness. The race's field of horses changed by the minute, and an electrical fire and outage left thousands of spectators hot, in the dark and unable to place bets.

The portrait of Maryland's historic racetrack unable to function on its biggest day of the year will linger long after most have forgotten who won the 123rd Preakness (unless, of course, victor Real Quiet goes on to win the Belmont Stakes and capture the first Triple Crown in a generation).

The blackout at Pimlico was a freak occurrence at the worst moment, but those things happen. We don't recall anyone blaming baseball for the earthquake that struck on opening night of a World Series in California years ago.

This was more than bad luck, though. An aging facility was overtaxed by a record crowd and the needs of the electronic JTC media. (Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke merits recognition for working the phones to marshal personnel as the emergency developed.)

The Preakness is ingrained in Maryland lore. You need not love horses to appreciate that. The public has been awakened to the fact that Pimlico is ill-equipped to host this cultural gem. Laurel Park doesn't have the infield or indoor capacity to accommodate the event either.

Coupled with the focus in the gubernatorial race on slot machines at the tracks, the debacle at Pimlico may help a tired sport gain the platform it needs for a political assist. The task force chaired last year by Eugene A. Conti Jr., state licensing secretary, should be renewed as a forum for discussion. Elected officials must also give some sign that, slots or not, Maryland is going to take the future of its $1 billion horse industry seriously.

Pub date: 5/19/98

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