PIMLICO: DOUBLING DOWN ON A BAD BET?

As horse racing fans in the United States know, Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, is home to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the American Triple Crown. While the race itself attracts Grade 1 caliber entrants, Pimlico is no place to hold one of the premier races on the American calendar. Whereas the Preakness is a coveted jewel, the retail facility offering it is about as far from a Tiffany & Co. as one can get.

An excerpt from the Pimlico website reads as follows:

“Historic Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes and second oldest racetrack in the nation behind Saratoga, opened its doors on October 25, 1870. Pimlico has hosted many racing icons for over a century; legendary horses such as Man o’ War, Sir Barton, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat and Cigar have thundered down her stretch in thrilling and memorable competition… On its journey to becoming a true national treasure, Pimlico has earned its patina of age.”

Compare this statement with three of the typical comments on a website that lets people rate various entertainment venues:

1. “Pimlico’s heyday was two generations ago, at least. It shows its age, and is… gloomy and empty for much of the year…”

2. “… Located in a really bad part of town. I’ve been there twice over the years and found it depressing both times.”

3. “If you enjoy watching horse races while wondering which direction the bullets are going to come from, this place is for you…. I have never seen such a disgusting array of impoverished, dangerous-looking drug-addicted miscreants. I have been all over Baltimore and I’ve never been in such fear of being robbed/murdered as when I was at Pimlico. If you value your life, stay far, far away.”

“Pimilco has earned its patina of age,” all right, but not in a favorable sense.

Following the 2013 Preakness, the Baltimore Business Journal carried an article indicating that the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, plans to address the dilapidated state of the racetrack:

“Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said plans for a $100 million renovation of the 143-year-old Pimlico Race Course will be unveiled in ‘mid to late summer’ [2013] and may include tearing down the barns behind the track’s grand stand. ‘Our real charge is that we know something has to be done,’ Chuckas said… during a post-Preakness Stakes news conference. ‘The amenities have to be improved, the experience, the actual physical structure has to be improved.’”

My main question is why the Maryland Jockey Club would want to renovate a racetrack located in an area of Baltimore that is not conducive to attracting customers? The Preakness will always draw a crowd, but what about the remainder of the days on the racing calendar?

Why throw $100 million into a plant that is so poorly located? Seems like that would be doubling down on a bad bet.

The guess here is that a scientifically conducted market research study, among current and potential customers, would not come close to supporting the concept of leaving Pimlico in its present location, even if the venerable racetrack is updated.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

Comments

  1. I live in Baltimore and would not go to Pimlico myself, much less let one of my family go there. A dangerous area of town. You could build a palace at Pimlico and it would not draw fans because of the surrounding slum.

  2. FieldofDreams says:

    If you build it they won’t come.

  3. Larry Odyniec says:

    I have attended the races at Pimlico hundreds of times; I have used public transport to attend the races of Pimlico hundreds of times and have never felt “threatened” . I don’t believe Pimlico area residents should be characterized in such a manner.

  4. RaceMaven says:

    Larry…

    If that is the way most customers and former customers feel about Pimlico then they should be listened to. Go ahead and re-do the track in its current location and see what happens–poor crowds. You may not feel threatened but apparently others do. Remodeling is throwing good money after bad.

  5. What should be done with Pimlico is to make it so it is worthy to host The Breeders’ Cup as part of the regular rotation (this would have to include lights as that is going to likely be a requirement of ALL BC hosts, including Santa Anita starting as early as next year). The neighborhood may not be the greatest, but that doesn’t stop 110,000+ from being there on the third Saturday in May for the Preakness and certainly would not stop 80-85,000 from being there for the Breeders’ Cup. People in Maryland and along the I-95 corridor would make a point of being at Pimlico to support a Breeders’ Cup there that likely would be in slightly milder conditions than New York in late October-early November. With BC Ltd. locked into the first weekend in November for the foreseeable future (due to the scheduling of other major races overseas before and after the BC), Pimlico may turn out to be the best site in the east for the BC.

    The infield likely would be able to more than handle what would likely be one of the largest crowds ever for the BC, while unlike a lot of major metro areas, not only do you have Baltimore for hotel space, you also have Washington not that far away, and the two cities combined would be able to handle the people coming in for the BC. Also, many members of Congress and the US Senate probably would want to make the relatively short trip to Baltimore for the BC.

  6. FormerEmployee says:

    I worked at Pimlico for years and know that the place is very unsafe, like employees getting mugged in the parking lot. People that say it is safe don’t know the inside and have a false sense of security.

  7. RaceDave says:

    Pimlico should remain right where it is. The city of Baltimore needs to be the ones to address the safety concerns. Attracting business in a state of the art facility helps but ultimately it’s the city that needs to invest in the area in order to turn it around. It can be done, but there needs to be a will.

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