Bill Boniface, the veteran horse trainer, won the Preakness in 1983 with Deputed Testamony, a horse from the Boniface family farm in Darlington in Harford County. The next year, Deputed Testamony broke the 1 1/16-mile track record at Pimlico Race Course, a mark that stands 19 years later.
Boniface treasures that record. He would hate to see Pimlico rebuilt with a different track that would possibly allow for faster times. The old records would fall one by one, and history would be lost.
"It would be a shame," Boniface said. "But progress is progress. The need for a new track is so great that maybe you've got to bend with the times."
Boniface was typical of people interviewed yesterday about their response to plans for rebuilding Pimlico and its racing oval at the current site in Northwest Baltimore.
An architect representing the Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., presented the plans Thursday at a meeting of Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel.
They call for a complete overhaul of Pimlico, which opened in 1870 and is home to the Preakness Stakes. The $1 million race is the second leg of the Triple Crown, the three-race series that includes the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.
Under the Maryland Jockey Club proposal, Pimlico's grandstand and clubhouse would be rebuilt on the opposite side of the track. The timing depends on whether the state approves slot machines at Pimlico, said Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the jockey club.
With slots, construction would begin right away and the machines would be placed in the clubhouse. Without slots, he said, the timetable is uncertain.
New barns would be constructed, a new entrance off Northern Parkway installed, and the racing oval rebuilt. Its position would be rotated, meaning that future Preaknesses would be run on a reconfigured, wider surface.
That break with history concerns racing enthusiasts. But most, like Boniface, believe the desperate need for a new track outweighs the assault on tradition.
"It's sort of a shame," said Tom McDonough, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission. "But it's one of those things necessary if you're going to affect real progress. It will not be so drastic a change as to damage the Preakness tradition and the Pimlico tradition."
Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said he is a traditionalist. At the same time, he said, the state's racing industry could begin solving its problems by moving into new, clean, fan-friendly tracks.
"I don't think many people disagree that the biggest obstacle to improving Maryland racing is the poor facilities," Bowman said.
The deteriorating condition of Pimlico is no secret. National journalists and racing officials have criticized it, publicly and privately. Some have even suggested taking the Preakness away from Pimlico.
Repositioning the racing surface would not bother Ray Paulick, editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse magazine in Lexington, Ky.
"They're making changes to Fenway Park, aren't they?" Paulick said of the home of baseball's Boston Red Sox. "And Fenway Park is nice. Pimlico's not even nice. It's a historic track, but it's rundown. It's beyond repair."
Ed Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, which oversees the three-race series, said: "We would be delighted" if Pimlico was rebuilt.
As for a new oval, he said: "I see no reason why that would be a problem. The Preakness would still be a mile and three-sixteenths, and it'd still be two weeks after the Derby."
At least one prominent racing fan in Maryland sees no need for changing the location of Pimlico's track and grandstand as a condition for remodeling. Chick Lang, a former Pimlico executive known as "Mr. Preakness," asked: Why not rebuild everything where it is?
De Francis said that flipping the site of the grandstand to the Preakness Way-Belvedere Avenue side of the property would ensure that the Preakness would not have to be moved to Laurel Park, not even for one year. He explained:
After one Preakness, construction would begin on the new clubhouse. After the next Preakness, conducted on the current track, the old clubhouse and grandstand would be demolished, and the racing oval would be rebuilt. The new facility would be ready for the following Preakness.
The oval would have to be rotated because, as configured now, there's not enough room along Preakness Way for a new entrance, clubhouse and parking, De Francis said. It would be reconfigured with a wider dirt and turf course, a wider turn-radius on the dirt track and a "chute" that would permit races of seven furlongs.
"The existing oval is not the way you would build a 21st-century, state-of-the-art oval," De Francis said of the track known for its narrow turns.
Despite the prospect of a new racetrack, enthusiasm was muted. The Maryland Jockey Club has trotted out sparkling new plans before.
"I'm in favor of a new facility," said Lou Ulman, a member of the racing commission and its immediate past chairman. "But I've seen too many drawings and not enough accomplishments."