- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ANNAPOLIS, MD. (AP) - Maryland could consider building a horse racing track and run the Preakness Stakes if its financially troubled owner decides to sell the Triple Crown race, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Tuesday.

Miller said the name for the second leg of the renowned race has value, and he believes it would be treated separately from the two Maryland facilities owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. The Aurora, Ontario-based company filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

“I would imagine that they would set a price on the Preakness and they would have to give the state the first option to purchase it to retain it in the state of Maryland,” Miller said.

The Preakness Stakes currently takes place at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where the race has been run for more than 100 years. The race, which had attendance of more than 112,000 people last year, is a big economic boost to the state each year.

Magna Entertainment owns Pimlico Race Course.

Maryland law provides significant limitations on the transfer or sale of the Preakness Stakes name, effectively giving the state the first chance to buy the name if it goes up for sale.

“We could lease it out to someone else or we could just keep it at Pimlico,” Miller, who has long been a strong advocate for preserving horse racing in Maryland, said. “We’ll see what happens.”

The state attorney general’s office issued a request for proposals this month for attorneys to represent Maryland in defense of the Preakness in Magna’s bankruptcy procedures.

Faced with a Pimlico in bad need of renovations, the Senate president said state officials could “maybe even build our own track,” a move he described as “a last-ditch option.”

“It certainly would be easier to build a race track rather than lose that millions and millions of dollars of Maryland money,” Miller said.

Magna is the largest horse track owner in the U.S. The company’s financial problems have raised questions about what would happen to the Preakness if the Canadian company fails to emerge from bankruptcy and sells off its assets.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Maryland Racing Commission approved reducing Pimlico’s spring racing season from 31 to 20 days.

In addition to Pimlico, Magna also owns Laurel Race Course in Maryland, Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., and Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as casinos and pari-mutuel wagering operations.

Miller, a Democrat, has been a strong supporter of trying to revive a horse racing industry that has been moving to neighboring states with slot machine gambling and bigger race purses.

Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machines, but the recession and an arrangement giving the state nearly half of the proceeds brought bids for only 6,550 machines out of a potential 15,000.

When talking about preserving horse racing, Miller often invokes Maryland’s racing tradition, which dates back to when George Washington used to gamble on horses in Annapolis.

“I think those that want to throw history under the bus, in my opinion, deserve to be thrown under the bus themselves,” Miller told reporters.

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