Billy Reed: As interest in Preakness wanes, so, too, does excitement for Pimlico

Billy Reed: As interest in Preakness wanes, so, too, does excitement for Pimlico
Billy Reed

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) – The Preakness, which began two years before the Kentucky Derby in 1873 but has not been run continuously, has fallen apart, which is fitting when you consider the dilapidated condition of Pimlico Race Course.

Neither Maximum Security, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for almost causing a major accident, nor Country House, who was elevated from second to become the official Derby winner, are running in Baltimore.

Improbable is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's Preakness. Here he's seen winning the G1 CashCall Futurity at Los Alamitos Race Course in December. (Source: Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby)
Improbable is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's Preakness. Here he's seen winning the G1 CashCall Futurity at Los Alamitos Race Course in December. (Source: Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby) (Source: Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby)

Neither will Code of Honor or Tacitus, who were moved up to second and third, respectively. That leaves Improbable, an official fourth in the Derby, and War of Will, who wound up in seventh place, as the most successful Derby horses to try the Preakness this year.

War of Will will be be interesting to watch, because he and jockey Tyler Gaffalione are the ones who got entangled with Maximum Security at the top of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Interestingly, Gaffalione did not claim foul nor talk to the Churchill Downs stewards in the 20-minute review of what happened.

So what could be the next-to-last Preakness held at Pimlico has no redeeming storylines unless a horse based there, Alwaysmining, gives the local fans a thrill by running his winning streak to seven in a row.

Frankly, it’s difficult to see anybody but Alwaysmining or Improbable winning the 1 3/16ths-mile race. Improbable is the only one of trainer Bob Baffert’s three Derby entrants to try the Preakness, and a victory by him might salvage some respectability for the Preakness.

Whatever the final crowd number for this year’s “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” it has to be lower than normal because several sections of grandstand seats have been condemned for safety reasons. Finally, all the years of neglect have caught up with Pimlico.

Both Pimlico and its sister track are owned by the Stronach Group. Instead of being determined to make Pimlico a fitting site for a Triple Crown race, the owners have put most of their money into Laurel, perhaps with the idea of eventually moving the Preakness there.

They did this in plain sight, with no hidden agenda, until earlier this year, when the City of Baltimore finally came out of its coma, saw what was happening, and filed a lawsuit against the Stronach Group for favoring Laurel over Pimlico.

The owners have agreed to run the 2020 Preakness at Pimlico, but it will be up the courts to decide what happens after that. The likelihood of some kind of agreement between the Stronach Group and Baltimore’s government seems unlikely.

Pimlico’s Triple Crown partners, Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association’s Belmont Park, probably don’t care what happens. They just know that Pimlico has been an eyesore for many years. The track’s definition of “renovation” seems to be just throwing another paint job on the ancient place.

The Stronach Group is not likely to sell Laurel, which is near the ocean and far more attractive than Pimlico. But it might be willing to sell Pimlico to some new owner. Would the Arab oil sheikhs be interested? The Chinese? An American horseman’s syndicate?

For now, though, everyone who loves racing will be praying mostly for a clean Preakness. Some believe the underlying cause behind the Derby DQ could be found at Santa Anita, where 23 horses have had to be destroyed this year following racetrack accidents.

This put safety first and foremost on the industry’s list of concerns. Various groups still are studying racetrack safety, medication safety, and jockey safety in answer to a California animal-rights group urging that the sport be banned in that state.

So even though we know the seating conditions at Pimlico are dreadful, let’s hope the track conditions are perfect. Let’s hope all the jockeys understand they have an obligation to obey the rules of riding for the good of the sport.

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