What's lacking at Pimlico racetrack

Major upgrade: Legislative approval of improvements would set high note for 125th Preakness.

March 29, 2000

MARYLAND's spring racing season kicks off today at Pimlico Race Course as the General Assembly haggles over bills that could finally set the stage for a modernization of the track.

Helping owners' efforts to upgrade Old Hilltop should be high on legislators' agenda. Already, Primlico's owners are spending $1.4 million just to meet fire-code standards. A far more elaborate renovation of the 130-year-old track depends on approval by lawmakers of a plan to pay for repairs through higher fees on bets.

As is often the case with horse racing matters, related issues are tied in. All of them pale in comparison to the need for a vastly improved race track and grandstand at Pimlico.

Pimlico serves as a linchpin for surrounding communities, some of which are struggling mightily. An enhanced racetrack, with quality restaurants and entertainment lounges open to the public day and night, could spur neighborhood revival.

Baltimore needs a thriving Pimlico that draws more people to watch live racing (through June 18), bet on televised races and frequent the new dining rooms, lounges and banquet rooms.

That's why state lawmakers should not be sidetracked by other controversies, such as a dispute between thoroughbred and harness horse owners over the future division of simulcast revenue. They also need to separate the issue ofhigher "take-out" fees for track improvements from the determined drive by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor to wring concessions that could help Delaware Park's owner open a race track in Cumberland.

What counts most is getting Pimlico in tip-top shape for the 125th running of the Preakness Stakes on May 20 -- Maryland's biggest sports event -- and ensuring that future Preaknesses will be run at a rejuvenated Pimlico.

Much is riding on the success of these renovations, costing $19 million. It is part of a $60 million overall project for Laurel, Rosecroft and Pimlico. The tracks must find ways to appeal to younger sports fans and couples looking for an entertaining night out.

Horse racing is beginning to draw more interest. March wagering at Maryland's tracks is up substantially. Now is the time to help Pimlico modernize its public areas. It would be good for racing and great for the city and state.

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