March 29, 2009 |

Twenty five years ago today, the Colts departed Baltimore in the dead of a snowy night and broke everyone in Charm City’s heart.  I remember it well; I was 16 years old and mad as hell when I woke up to find my beloved Colts going to a cow town.   It took a long time for me to get over the Colts leaving.  It became even harder when as an adult working in sports, I learned how the city wasn’t proactive enough to build a stadium for the Colts. 


True, Colts owner Robert Irsay didn’t deserve anything from the city; he was a miserable owner and, worse yet, a miserable human being.  His awful ownership caused an apathetic fan base that went from insane to barely caring in the span of 12 years.  Irsay bumbled and stumbled his way out of town.   Yet, those 13 years without a team hurt, and it was only after the Colts left that Baltimore realized that we needed new facilities for the Orioles and one for football if the NFL was ever to return.


Today history seems to be repeating itself.  In a very short time we may lose the Preakness and the horseracing industry all together.    This would be worse than the Colts leaving town.  The Colts hurt the city’s pride and its soul; if the Preakness and horseracing leave, it may radically change the economics of the state. 


The horseracing industry employs more people than both Orioles and the Ravens combined.  Not only would track employees lose their jobs, but breeding farms would be lost in addition to veterinarians and groomers.  Farmland would disappear as well as open space.  The state would lose valuable income from racing and yes, the prestige from hosting one of the jewels of sports, The Preakness. 


Like Bob Irsay, neither Magna Inc. nor the industry is blameless, but just as in the Colts’ situation, the politicians in the state have been slow to react.   Former Governor Paris Glendening opposed slots.  Why?  I still don’t know.  Maybe the fact that he was a Washingtonian is the answer.   Former Governor Bob Ehrlich tried but was held back by a few partisan people in the House of Delegates. 


Slots finally passed last year both in the legislature and through a referendum of voters.  However, it might be too little too late.  Magna is in bankruptcy, and its assists are to be auctioned off.   Now the State of Maryland is furiously trying to save the industry with talk of a “super track” and possible involvement from the Angelos Family. 


While I applaud this offer, I have to wonder why it took so long and why no one remembered the lesson of 25 years ago.  Most of the people in a position of power were here for the Colts.  Did they not remember?  It’s not too late.  The government and the local community need to do anything and everything to ensure the racing industry continues.  It’s too important to Maryland and the hardworking people of the industry. 


Learn your lessons from the past and please don’t repeat history again.  The Preakness should never leave Baltimore and neither should horseracing.