Time to Re-Examine Pimlico Deal

Cheating Scandal should force hard questions

Two Saturdays ago, Bob Baffert trained horse Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby. At least, that’s what we thought happened before Medina Spirit tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and Baffert was suspended for his role in it.

Now, the debate about Medina Spirit has gotten silly. Bob Baffert says this is “cancel culture.Ex-President Donald Trump called the horse a “junky.” We live in stupid times.

But lost in all of the conversation about the horse is the hard conversations needed about the horse racing industry.

A cheating scandal within the horse racing industry is going to have long-standing implications on the horse racing industry writ large. Negative attention on racing, particularly when it impacts the credibility of the racing action, is not going to do much to stoke the renewed interest of the general public in racing.

A horse that sold for $1,000 that won the Kentucky Derby? Cool human interest story. A horse that sold for $1,000 that won the Kentucky Derby because they pumped the horse full of chemicals? What kind of stupid sport is this?

That brings us to the Pimlico deal that was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2020. The deal was always bad for Marylanders, something that I wrote about back in 2019:

If you’re thinking to yourself “this is a bad deal for Maryland taxpayers,” you’re right. There is no compelling state interest in issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds simply for the sake of holding a horse race once a year in the city of Baltimore. What’s even more absurd is the fact that the bond issue would be given to Stronach to both rebuild Pimlico and to refurbish Laurel Park.

As we have stated here before, the state of Maryland has no real interest in maintaining the Preakness in Maryland. At all. It is a Maryland institution, a historic event, something that is part of the fabric of Baltimore’s culture. But the money that the City of Baltimore and the Stronach Group wants the state to pony up has other priorities. The same people who want the state to shell out an extra $4 billion a year for public schools now wants the state to pony up close to half-a-billion dollars in bonds to refurbish a horse track, with bond service that will cost taxpayers an additional $17 million a year.

It’s still a bad deal, it’s always been a bad deal. And no matter how much the establishment wants to fluff up the deal, it remains a bad deal.

But the Pimlico deal is a bad deal that got worse in the wake of the Medina Spirit scandal. Now, Marylanders are on the hook for $500 million to refurbish facilities for a once-a-year event in a sports that lacks any credibility. We’re not even sure that horse racing in its current incarnation is going to exist in the way it has existed the last fifty years after this scandal, and yet Maryland’s public officials of both parties continue to support this foolish redevelopment plan, a handout to benefit shady operators in what turns out to be a dishonest sport.

Marylanders, who could certainly use $500 million in tax relief right now, should contact their legislators and demand a repeal of the Pimlico financing deal. It is in appropriate to continue throwing taxpayer money at a sport that cannot keep its own house in order. I’m guessing Marylanders would rather fund drug treatment than fund drugged horses and would rather redirect the money toward education and not equines.

Funding the Pimlico rehab was a real deal for taxpayers from jump street. This is a good time to reexamine the deal, realize the consequences, and take corrective action to protect taxpayers from funding an albatross.