Preakness worries

Our view: Possible sale of two Maryland racetracks deserves close attention

March 08, 2009

I f the price is right. That's what Magna Entertainment Corp. CEO Frank Stronach said. That sounds awfully like "make me an offer," and he's ready to unload Laurel and Pimlico racetracks to help settle his company's financial troubles. A sale could threaten a 133-year tradition in Maryland, the running of the Preakness Stakes, and that prospect should have state officials working now to devise a Plan B. The Preakness, a $60 million money-maker for the region, is an anchor of thoroughbred racing here and a key reason for legalizing slots in Maryland.

Mr. Stronach's comments to a reporter for this newspaper followed Magna's decision last week to seek bankruptcy protection. The indebted, Canadian-based company, which owns nine tracks in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 protection so it could get its troubled finances in order, pay some of its bills and continue operating. The 2009 Preakness, set for May 16, is expected to go off as planned, but after that?

The uncertainty has Maryland's horse racing industry skittish as a colt. A bankruptcy judge in Delaware would have to approve any sale of Magna tracks, but Maryland does have some rights to the Preakness and state lawyers have let the bankruptcy court know of its keen interest. Gov. Martin O'Malley has asked the attorney general to review the state's legal rights in the event of a sale.

But there's more at stake here than one horse race. The Laurel track, located near a commuter rail stop, has tremendous commercial potential, and Pimlico has been a mainstay of Northwest Baltimore. Mr. O'Malley, his economic development chief and area business leaders should be devising a strategy to protect Maryland's investment. We don't want to be scratching our heads if the paddock door slams shut.

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