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Preakness Stakes' future at deteriorating Pimlico remains in limbo

Preakness Stakes' future at deteriorating Pimlico remains in limbo
The field heads into the first turn during the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The story line that never seems to go away is determining the future of the Preakness Stakes. By state law, the Preakness can’t move from Baltimore without approval by the legislature, which it doesn’t seem to want to give. The Stronach Group, which owns decrepit Pimlico Race Course and has the rights to the Preakness, wants to move it to its facility at Laurel Park, about 30 miles away.

Negotiations are going nowhere.

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Pimlico, which holds races only 12 days a year, continues to deteriorate. About 7,000 grandstand seats were closed under the advice of an independent engineering firm. On Tuesday, a water pipe burst and most of the facility has been without running water, which includes most of the bathrooms.

“It gets tougher every year to give the customers the experience they deserve for an event like this,” said Tim Ritvo in a six-minute news conference. Ritvo is the chief operating officer of the Stronach Group and also oversees the running of Santa Anita. “A pipe broke two days before the race [week]. We go in and repair it and the engineers tell me it takes time for the pressure to build up.

“It’s just old infrastructure. We do everything we can to keep it up to the level we can. When you have no one here all year and then you fill the place up, you have all kinds of problems.”

On a perfect weather day, Pimlico attracted 131,256, although a portion of the crowd was in the infield for a daylong concert that included Kygo, Diplo and Logic.

Santa Anita fallout

Ritvo addressed the most recent equine death at Santa Anita, ending a streak of six weeks without any catastrophic breakdowns. Commander Coil broke a shoulder Friday while galloping and was euthanized. It’s an unusual injury under low-risk conditions. It was the 24th death since Dec. 26.

“We worked 240 horses there [Saturday] morning without incident again,” Ritvo said. “We’ll be running again [Saturday]. We’re on top of it. We kept one of our top guys on the grounds, [TSG chief strategy officer] Aidan Butler. It’s critical to us. We understand the position that we are in and the industry is in. We take everything very seriously.”

The local favorite

Alwaysmining was hoping to become the first Maryland-bred to win the Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983. His credentials were impressive, winning his last six races, but all at Laurel. However, he never got into contention and finished 11th.

“He appears to be fine,” said Kelly Rubley, who was hoping to become the first woman trainer to win the Preakness. “We’re waiting to scope and we’ll evaluate him. He appeared to stop and I don’t know what the reason for that is.”

Jockey Daniel Centeno, who was making his first Preakness start, was also disappointed.

“I thought he’d run better,” Centeno said. “He had a good trip and we tried to make a move around the turn but he just stopped.”

Unexpected surprise

Few gave Everfast any kind of a chance in the race. He hadn’t won since his debut as a maiden 10 races ago. He was coming back off of two weeks rest having finished fifth in the Pat Day Mile. He was ninth in the Florida Derby. But with a fierce late charge he was able to get up for second, a nose in front of Owendale and 1¼ lengths in back of War Of Will.

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“Second in any classic is great,” trainer Dale Romans said. “I thought the whole race he looked comfortable. When we wanted him to start picking up horses, he did. You could see he had the momentum. I thought we were going to win for a minute.”

Jockey Joel Rosario, who spent the winter at Santa Anita before moving back to Kentucky to ride, is excited about the colt.

“We almost had it,” Rosario said. “He ran great. We have a great shot at the Belmont.”

Other Southland horse

Other than Bob Baffert, the only other Santa Anita-based trainer with a horse on the Preakness Day card was Phil D’Amato. He sent out Vevina in the $100,000 Searching Stakes for fillies and mares going 1½ miles on the turf. She ran at the back of the six-horse field, slowly creeping up to fourth with a quarter of a mile to go and rallied to finish second to Ickymasho by 3¼ lengths. Although she has run at Santa Anita and Golden Gate, she has spent most of her time in D’Amato’s Kentucky-based operation.

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