SNIDER: Is the Preakness coming to Laurel in 2020?

Rick Snider
February 21, 2019 - 12:11 pm
Will 2019 be the last year the Preakness Stakes runs at Pimlico?

Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

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There’s a land grab over 1 mile of dirt most folks only see for two minutes annually. And yet, it’s time to shovel it southward.

This may be the final running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course when the Triple Crown’s middle jewel runs on May 18. It has been long expected to move to Laurel Park and a 2018 study saying Pimlico needs more than $400 million in renovations was the dagger. There’s no way anyone is spending big money on a 149-year-old track that runs 12 days annually.

Dear Preakness – welcome to the Washington area.

Laurel has long been upgrading its weary facility readying for the Preakness. The crowd will drop in half to maybe 50,000 and the days of crazy infield goings-on will end.

But then, this is about the future and not the past that thoroughbred racing loves to embrace. The only way Maryland keeps the Preakness is moving to Laurel. Otherwise, we’ll see the end of the traditional Triple Crown of Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes when another track offers more money to horse owners to skip the Preakness. In the end, offering several times the payout will lure owners away from Baltimore, tradition be damned.

Two recent Triple Crown champions in Justify (2018) and American Pharoah (2015) ended the need for tradition. It brought closure after a 37-year gap since Affirmed last swept. It’s OK to move on.

The race length will be the same. Even some of the dirt can be moved from Pimlico to Laurel’s finish line. Debates may rage over Laurel’s turns being less sharp than Pimlico to allow a different racing style, but who cares. The point is for the Preakness to continue in Maryland. The venue is secondary. State lawmakers need to approve the Preakness’ move away from Baltimore.

So head to Old Hilltop in May. Take a final look around, especially in the grandstand that’s only open on Preakness weekend annually. It’s like walking through the 1950s. And then get ready for Washington’s newest major event in an area that loves them.

And put me down for a $2 exacta box.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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