What happens to a horse race that’s interrupted as the thoroughbreds come charging down the home stretch?
That’s where the future of Pimlico Race Course has been halted — at least temporarily — as Maryland lawmakers announced over the weekend that their legislative session will end Wednesday, March 18, weeks ahead of schedule, over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
That leaves two horse racing issues, and millions of dollars, floating in the air above Northwest Baltimore’s Old Hilltop and its surrounding neighborhoods:
1) There’s the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, which would keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, shift day-to-day racing to Laurel Park and renovate Pimlico to include non-racing facilities.
2) And there’s the immediate impact of the coronavirus on this year’s Preakness, scheduled for May 16. This year marks the 145th running of the Preakness.
Already, major league ballparks and basketball arenas have been shut down, and crowds larger than 500 outlawed for the moment. If the virus continues to spread, what happens to this year’s Preakness?
It’s the only day of the year in which Pimlico actually makes a profit.
In response to a query from Jmore, the Maryland Jockey Club issued this statement: “With Preakness 145 scheduled for May 16 still two months away, preparations for the event continue to move forward. Our team is monitoring the situation with COVID-19 daily and any decisions regarding the postponement of the Preakness or Infield Fest will be made using the best guidance from the local health and government authorities and will be immediately communicated.”
In other words, right now, nobody knows anything.
But we may find some clarity on legislation to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, whenever the current health crisis may abate.
In the General Assembly, the House passed the act, 122 to 8, sending it along to the Senate. A companion bill previously passed the Senate, 44 to 1.
“When’s the last time you saw that kind of support?” said Alan Rifkin, counsel to the Maryland Jockey Club and the Preakness Stakes.
“So we’re hopeful that the bill can move quickly through the Senate,” he said. “The leadership of the Senate have been strong supporters, and we’re very appreciative of that support. I think we’re in good hands.
“But it’s still a race against time.”
Rifkin meant the early General Assembly closing from the coronavirus. With so much going on in Annapolis, can legislators squeeze in a vote on horse racing? That’s a race against the clock beyond any thoroughbred records.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.