Best known as the host of the Preakness Stakes, Pimlico Race Course has a long history in Baltimore, Maryland, with the track itself dating back to 1870. Its name comes from a 1660s English settlement, members of which had fond memories of Pimlico’s Tavern in London. The facility cherishes its history, which is on display for all visitors to see.
Pimlico is more than simply a track used to showcase the Preakness Stakes. This important piece of Baltimore history is 140 acres of land dedicated to horses and the people who work with them.
Much of the property is dedicated to a stable area, which can hold 665 horses, in addition to rooms for tack and feed. There are jockey quarters, a paddock area and the tracks themselves.
Patrons typically gather in the main grandstand, the old grandstand areas, the clubhouse and restaurants. Though on the day of the Preakness, there are box seats and suites, along with extra spectator areas infield and in the stands.
Attendance at the track has varied throughout history. The park has opened during various times of the year, but spring has always been the peak time. Some notable records have held steady over the years, but new ones are set regularly:
Several years after the Stronach Group took over ownership of Pimlico, a study was commissioned from the Maryland Stadium Authority, resulting in a 2017 report calling for $250 million of renovations to the property. A 2018 follow-up suggested the existing buildings be demolished and rebuilt. Surveys of the Baltimore public show support for an upgraded Pimlico.
The city of Baltimore signed an agreement with the Stronach Group in 2019 to keep the Preakness at Pimlico, no matter the renovations. They decided to demolish the grandstand and replace it with a smaller structure, build new horse barns, and rotate the track by 30 degrees to create nine parcels of land to be sold for private development. All of the work is pending approval by the Maryland legislature in 2020.
Renovations are likely to begin in late 2020 or early 2021.
Pimlico’s main track is a one-mile oval on a loam soil surface. The dirt track is 70 feet wide and six furlongs in length with 1 ¼-mile chutes. The stretch from the last turn to the finish line is 1,152 feet long.
There is a turf course as well; a 7/8-mile track inside the main track with an aluminum inner rail. This grass course was installed in 1954 and is a mixture of 90% turf-type tall fescue and 10% bluegrass. The height of the grass is maintained at 4-5 inches during racing season.
Pimlico is widely known for hosting the Preakness Stakes, which is certainly the track’s most popular and prominent race. Sometimes called “The People’s Race” and known as the second race of the Triple Crown, it is also nicknamed the “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans” due to the blanket of yellow flowers draped over the winning horse. (The flowers are painted to look like the official Maryland flower, the black-eyed Susan.) The signature Pimlico race is held annually on the third Saturday of May, just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.
The Preakness debuted in 1873 and ran its 144th edition in 2019. It races 3-year-old thoroughbreds for 9.5 furlongs (1 3/16 miles or 1,900 meters) on a dirt track. The record for the fastest horse in the race’s history is held by Secretariat, who ran it in 1:53:00 in 1973.
With a purse of $1.5 million, it is one of the top 10 richest races in the United States. The original purse in 1873 was $1,000, increased to $25,000 in 1919 and to $100,000 in 1946. It eventually went from $200,000 in 1979 to $1 million in 1997, then to the current amount in 2014.
The Dixie Stakes is a popular Grade 2 race run in mid-May each year at Pimlico. It is the eighth-oldest graded stake race in America and the oldest of its kind in Maryland. It was first run in 1870 as the Dinner Party Race and went through several name changes before landing on the Dixie Stakes, or Dixie Handicap. Thoroughbreds at least 3 years old may run the 1 1/8-mile race on turf and compete for a $250,000 purse.
The Black-Eyed Susan Stakes is also a Grade 2 race and offers a purse of $250,000. It originally ran in 1919 as the Pimlico Oaks but was renamed in 1952 after the Maryland state flower. Three-year-old fillies run it on a dirt track for nine furlongs (1 1/8 miles).
|Grade I||Grade II||Grade III|
|Preakness Stakes||Dixie Stakes||Allaire duPont Distaff Stakes|
|Black-Eyed Susan Stakes||Allaire duPont Distaff Stakes|
|Chick Lang Stakes|
|Miss Preakness Stakes|
|Maryland Sprint Handicap|
The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in 1743 to help foster horse racing as a sport, an effort led by former Gov. Samuel Ogle. President Andrew Jackson was a member of the club, which was incorporated in 1830 and hosted its first race in 1831. The land that is currently Pimlico’s was first used on Oct. 25, 1870, when 12,000 patrons came to see a $10,000 race on the first day, followed by a $15,000 race the next day.
Pimlico’s management decided to run a major stakes race in 1873 for 3-year-old thoroughbreds and named the race for the first winner of the Dinner Party Stakes, Milton H. Sanford’s colt Preakness.
The original Pimlico facility was built for $25,000 and included a high-tiered wooden stand with three spires to house the Victorian-style clubhouse. The establishment expanded in 1956 to convert sleeping quarters into a dining room and club rooms for Maryland Jockey Club members, and to construct a Jockeys Hall of Fame. A new clubhouse and grandstand were added in 1954.
Pimlico continued to become more prestigious as it hosted the Preakness Stakes each year. When the Preakness purse surpassed $10,000 in 1918, there were too many entries and it was run in two divisions. By 1937, Pimlico led all tracks in America for purse distributions.
Sir Barton was the first horse to become a Triple Crown winner, doing so in 1919 by winning the Kentucky Derby on May 10, the Preakness on May 14 and the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Pimlico garnered more attention in 1957 when then-Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, paid a visit. Other famous Preakness winners include Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.
Another famous race from Pimlico’s history took place in 1938 when Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in the Pimlico Special.
|Belmont Park||Churchill Downs||Saratoga Racecourse||Monmouth Park||Arlington International Racecourse|
|Pimlico Race Course||Keeneland Race Course||Santa Anita Park||Oaklawn Racing||Fair Grounds Race Course|
Additional renovations in the 1970s brought a remodeled grandstand and clubhouse, as well as a tunnel for Preakness runners to cross under the top of the stretch. New renovations that will cost upward of $250 million are expected in the early 2020s.
Pimlico’s place in history was noted many years ago by wealthy American businessman Alfred Vanderbilt Sr.:
“Pimlico is more than a dirt track bounded by four streets. It is an accepted American institution, devoted to the best interests of a great sport, graced by time, respected for its honorable past.”