Angelos wants to “save” horse racing and Preakness for Maryland

March 20, 2009 | Nestor Aparicio

“The Preakness is going to stay in Maryland. Period. It’s not leaving. Guaranteed!” Those are the words that Maryland State Senate president Mike Miller told the local media earlier this week. I hope that he’s right.

I’ve long been a proponent of finding ways to salvage what’s left of the dying local industry of horse racing but most importantly adding some future luster and pageantry back into what was once an annual “Super Bowl” for Baltimore and Maryland. But it’s not just about the Preakness or the long-tailed reach of the economics of having horse racing go extinct in our state. It’s not about jockeys and horses and vets and farms and people. It’s about whether anyone in the public truly cares enough to support horse racing with their wallets in a world where bets are available online, just a click away around the clock.

If a “supertrack” is ever created, will anyone come back to horse racing or try it for the first time? Will it ever be a true money maker worthy of spending several hundred million dollars to resurrect a sport that hasn’t really mattered in our community in a quarter of a century?

This morning, The Sun reported that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has now thrown his ample pocketbook into the ring to step forward to be a “hero” and potentially buy the residue of what made Magna file for bankruptcy.

Angelos purchased the most successful sports entity the state has ever known in the Orioles 16 years ago when he outbid two groups of investors at a New York auction and has successfully managed to destroy 50 years of history in less than a decade.

He took a fan base of more than 3.6 million people and has systematically destroyed it. I don’t think that’s even debatable at this point. Just come to Opening Day on April 6th and count the pinstripes.

So here’s the question of the day: Does Angelos — or anyone he knows — have the ability to take the deadest of dead local entities and breathe life back into it with the stroke of a check? It will undoubtedly take a LOT more than “money” to revive horse racing as a whole in our region.

It will take vision. Immense vision.

There’s no doubt that Angelos relishes the role of “hero” when it comes to these situations — his anger toward Art Modell’s arrival when he couldn’t buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and move them here is well-documented — but I’m having trouble believing that Angelos would know the first thing about “re-marketing” horse racing here two generations after its heyday.

Sure, he could buy it…

But for anyone “buying” the Maryland Jockey Club — Laurel and Pimlico — I’m not sure really what the “asset” is anymore? There are very few horse racing fans left. The facilities are in decay. And young people don’t identify or understand the sport.

But Angelos, who has always loved the ponies and who had involvement with Rosecroft when it became available for sale several years ago, is no doubt very sincere when he said: “Whatever I could do to help, I’m prepared to do.”

I hope Angelos does buy Magna’s remaning assets. I hope the Preakness stays here. I hope a supertrack is built and it’s packed night after night and I have a good time.

But somehow, I have a feeling that the “vision” for the future of Maryland’s horse racing is something that Angelos will sorely lack. Only time will tell…

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