By Bill Finley
It remains uncertain whether or not Pimlico will eventually be rebuilt or closed with the GI Preakness S. moved to Laurel Park, but in either case there will no longer be any stalls or training at the Baltimore track once its fate is decided. For that reason, The Stronach Group is going ahead with plans to re-open Bowie Race Track as a training center and possibly a place that would hold a short meet each year.
Pimlico’s future rests in the hands of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is studying the feasability of rebuilding the racetrack, which would keep the Preakness in Baltimore. With The Stronach Group having put so many resources into refurbishing Laurel, it has told the Stadium Authority that it believes the only feasible way to keep Pimlico open would be for government to spend the money to modernize the racetrack. If that were to happen, however, the barn areas would be closed and the land put to other use. For that reason, The Stronach Group knows that it will eventually need a place to house as many as 1,500 horses and has picked defunct Bowie as the place to do so.
“We’re going to bring Bowie back as a training center and as a world-class training center,” said Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo. “It will be something like we have with Palm Meadows. Bowie works for our overall plans. Bowie works a lot better than Pimlico when it comes to shipping over to Laurel and, even if Pimlico is to be rebuilt, stabling would not be available. We’d only have ship-in barns. If they revitalize the entire Pimlico area, year-round training has never even been discussed.”
Bowie has never had a turf course, but Ritvo said it’s likely one will be built there.
Then known as Prince George’s Park, Bowie opened in 1914. It began racing during the winters in the 1950s-something unheard of for a track in the Northeast. The only game in town in the winter, it attracted fans not only from Washington and Baltimore, but from as far away as Philadelphia and New York.
The track stopped racing in 1985 and the grandstand was torn down soon thereafter. But in remained open as a training center until 2015.
Should Pimlico stay open, there wouldn’t appear to be any need to race at Bowie. But if Pimlico closes, year-round racing at Laurel may prove to be unfeasible. Much like Gulfstream Park West is now used to give Gulfstream, and particularly its turf course, some needed time off, Bowie could do the same for Laurel.
“Everything is on the table,” Ritvo said. “There could be a chance we would race there. Will you see a new grandstand put up there? Probably not. Could you see a two or three-week fair meet to break things up a little? Sure. Rather than run at Laurel year-round, and depending on what happens with Pimlico, I could see a summer festival meet there, especially if we build a grass course.”
Ritvo said Bowie could re-open with only minimal work needed, but didn’t rule out a total rebuild, which would include erecting new barns. He said The Stronach Group is so committed to the future of Maryland racing that costs will not be an object when it comes to making Bowie among the top training centers in the U.S.
“What we’re doing in Maryland, continuing to improve Laurel with an eye on hosting a Breeders’ Cup, re-opening Bowie–we’re all in,” Ritvo said. “The pari-mutuel handle in Maryland has doubled in the last four years from $300 million to $600 million. Obviously, Maryland was a great place to race 25-30 years ago. It got hurt when all the surrounding areas got slots and it took forever to get casino money for the Maryland tracks. But now that they got it done, they got it done right. When it’s all said and done, I think Maryland will be the pillar of the Mid-Atlantic racing states.”