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Dread about Pimlico's future hangs over Preakness marked by closed seats, clogged toilets

Doug Donovan, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Horse Racing

BALTIMORE -- The odd site of a riderless horse racing down the track may have distracted from several other missing elements at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday -- working bathrooms, Old Grandstand seats and a Kentucky Derby winner to hold out the promise of a Triple Crown champion.

No amount of beautiful dresses and gorgeous hats at the 144th Preakness Stakes could brighten the sour faces of female fans enduring long lines for the few restrooms still working, one clear sign of the massive investment needed to rebuild Pimlico. Then, far above the fray, a small plane pulled a sign that displayed the stakes playing out between city officials who are fighting to keep Preakness in Baltimore and The Stronach Group, the Canadian company that wants to shutter Pimlico and move the party to Laurel Park.

"Stronach Keep Preakness in Baltimore," read the sign, paid for by a political communications firm, KO Public Affairs.

The culmination of Maryland's biggest racing weekend did little to dispel fears about the track and the sport.

For the record, War of Will won, after going off at 6-1 odds, before an estimated attendance of 131,256, a slight dip from the 2018 total of 134,487 that had ended four years of growing crowd size. Those fans were equally captivated by Bodexpress, who continued down the track after tossing its rider.

If ever the bad blood that has been simmering between Stronach and the city this year needed a soundtrack, Emo-rap sensation Juice WRLD delivered the right mix by leading the InfieldFest audience in a singalong of his chart-topping song "Death Race for Love" and prompting audience members to raise their middle fingers in unison.

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Some feared the day would be spoiled by rain or another tragedy: A horse had died at Friday's Black Eyed Susan Day

Yet, for one day at least, the state's dignitaries put on their best faces and enjoyed an afternoon.

"This is an incredible day for Maryland," said Gov. Larry Hogan. "People all over the world are watching."

The Republican governor said he would prefer to see Preakness remain at Pimlico, where he was simultaneously hosting a fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association on Saturday.

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