BALTIMORE -- The Stronach Group has no recourse but to continue negotiating with state and city officials as the company looks to determine the future of the Preakness at either Pimlico Race Course or Laurel Park, chief operating officer Tim Ritvo said at his annual Preakness-day news conference.
"We continue to try to work with the city and the state on options to have an experience that the people deserve with a great race like this," he said. "If it doesn't move forward at all, it's the worst, because that's the status quo, and I don't think anybody wants that."
Ritvo added that those efforts have been complicated by the city's lawsuit seeking control of the track, which he said has "no merit."
"We'll have to wait until that's played out or dropped before we can really begin negotiating," he said.
State and city officials have made little progress on plans to rehabilitate Pimlico after the Maryland Stadium Authority released a $424 million proposal to rejuvenate the site in December. Meanwhile, The Stronach Group tried unsuccessfully to win $120 million in state funding to accelerate work on a "super track" at Laurel Park. Ritvo and other company officials have said a refurbished Laurel could make a better home for the Preakness, but state law says the race can be moved "only as a result of a disaster or emergency."
Ritvo addressed the future of the track even as his staff worked to fix plumbing problems plaguing the facility on Maryland's most important racing day. Last month, The Stronach Group closed off nearly 7,000 seats in the historic grandstand, citing safety concerns.
"It gets tougher every year to give the experience that the customer deserves for an event like this," he said, explaining that a pipe broke outside the track several days ago, creating lingering problems with water pressure. "It's just old infrastructure, and we do everything we can to keep it up to the level we can."
Ritvo also faced questions about two horse deaths Friday, one on the undercard of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico and one at Santa Anita Park in California, the Stronach-owned track that coped with 23 deaths between late December and the end of March.
"We're looking at ourselves all the time to see what we can do to improve and what the sport can do to improve," he said. "Unfortunately, percentage-wise, the numbers at Santa Anita were really good for the last two months, until yesterday. It's an unfortunate incident that we look to study to see what we can do better all the time."
Ritvo said the company will continue to push all the jurisdictions where it operates to implement CEO Belinda Stronach's proposed restrictions on race-day medications and jockey whips. Her plans, particularly a ban on the anti-bleeding drug Lasix for 2-year-olds and stakes runners, have encountered resistance from Maryland horsemen and regulators.
Ritvo said the company could "continue to work with them, make them realize how important an issue it is and how what we faced in California ... we were really devastated and close to watching racing go away."
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