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The tunnel to the infield at Pimlico.

Memories of Pimlico

Date: 05/13/2021

The Preakness Stakes celebrates its 146th running this Saturday, having been first run in 1873, first run at Pimlico in Baltimore but briefly moved to New York before returning home for good in 1909, and has been run here every year since. However, 2021 will mark the end of an era, as this will be the final Preakness to be run over the original track configuration, which has not only hosted the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but was also the site of the famous 1938 Pimlico Special, the match race where Seabiscuit shipped in from California to defeat Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

Anybody who has visited the facility in recent years could tell the building is not only outdated but is beyond repair. The roof leaks when it rains, the elevators frequently fail, a power outage severely affected operations during the 1998 Preakness, and the final straw came in 2019 when the old wooden grandstand at the top of the stretch was declared unsafe for use and closed to spectators just weeks before that year's Preakness, forcing ticket-holding fans to either take a refund or be moved elsewhere in the facility including the infield tents. After negotiations between the city, state, Maryland horsemen, and track owner The Stronach Group, finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Soon after the 2021 Preakness meet ends, the facility will be demolished, with the first major step being to rotate the track 30 degrees and shorten it to 7 1/2 furlongs in order to align it with the surrounding streets, opening more room for development. The goal is for Pimlico to be used year-round for non-racing purposes, including sports fields for community use in the infield. The city of Baltimore will own the property, leasing it back to Stronach Group for two months every year in order to install the temporary structures needed to host the Preakness such as tents and seating, and then dismantle it afterward. The 2022 Preakness is expected to be run over the new track but with mostly temporary structures for spectators as the permanent grandstand will not be completed by then.

Here are some scenic photos of the old Pimlico facilities before the last Preakness held there.
The winner's circle at Pimlico. This was remodeled just a few years ago when they changed over to the black and red color scheme instead of the old black and yellow one.
The indoor paddock at Pimlico is pretty dark and a bit claustrophobic so some horses have to be saddled outside on the track. Weather permitting most of the Preakness field is saddled on the turf course.
The finish line and the Preakness winner's circle in the infield on the left and the inside of the grandstand just behind the regular winner's circle.
Views of the grandstand looking both directions in the stretch. The part on the right with the black Preakness tarp over the front was condemned before the 2019 Preakness and hasn't been used since 2018.

The back of the grandstand. The stakes barns are off to the right of this photo.

The Preakness stakes barn which is only used for this weekend of racing along with a couple of other adjacent barns. The regular barns are on the other side of the backstretch.
Looking out from the roof at the stakes barn area behind the grandstand (left, the Preakness stakes barn is the farthest out to the left) and (right) looking out over the finish line, Preakness winner's circle, infield, and behind the backstretch the regular barns.
The beginning of the horse path from the stakes barn (left of this photo) over to the gap at the head of the stretch where the horses can enter the track. The right photo is farther along the path with Concert Tour in the lead.
Looking over the track from the pressbox. The entire racing surface will be torn up and rotated 30 degrees, so not just the building is being replaced.
The start of a 1 1/16 mile dirt race. Flower beds between the dirt and turf tracks spell out "Pimlico", "Preakness" and the edition number (146 this year). At 70 feet wide this is the narrowest track in the Triple Crown, and so the Preakness field size is limited to 14 (the Derby has a maximum of 20, the Belmont can run 16).
The inside of the building is getting pretty run-down overall. Left is the neon outside the Triple Crown Room on the third floor, where much of the neon is burnt out. Right is a mural above the betting windows.
The long hall leading out to the press box is lined with these super large program pages from past runnings of the Preakness that were signed by all the media covering the event. Sadly this went away when they changed to the current style of program. These are from 1984 (Gate Dancer won) and 1972 (Bee Bee Bee won). Many famous names can be seen such as Joe Hirsch and Jim Bolus.

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