Pimlico Race Course is a thoroughbred horse racetrack in Baltimore, Maryland, most famous for hosting the Preakness Stakes. Its name is derived from the 1660s when English settlers named the area where the facility currently stands in honor of Olde Ben Pimlico’s Tavern in London. The racetrack is nicknamed “Old Hilltop” after a small rise in the infield that became a favorite gathering place for thoroughbred trainers and race enthusiasts. It is currently owned by Maryland Jockey Club.
Pimlico officially opened in the fall of 1870, with the colt Preakness winning the first running of the Dinner Party Stakes. Three years later the horse would have the 1873 Preakness Stakes named in his honor. The track is also noted as the home for the match race in which Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in the second Pimlico Special, on November 1, 1938, before a crowd of 43,000.
The Preakness Stakes and the Pimlico Special are run at a distance of 1 3/16 miles. The Pimlico track record for that distance is held by Farma Way, who set it while winning the Pimlico Special in 1991.
In the century and more since its opening, Pimlico Race Track has weathered much outside history including the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Great Fire of Baltimore (1904) and several notable Baltimore riots. Pimlico also survived Prohibition and even an anti-gambling movement in 1910. As Alfred G. Vanderbilt said, “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.” The races held at Pimlico, especially the Preakness, draw spectators from the Mid-Atlantic region. In 2007, the official attendance was 121,263 for the Preakness, the most people to watch a sporting event in Maryland history. More than $87.2 million in bets were made.
On March 23, 2010 an agreement was reached to sell the two Maryland Jockey Club tracks (Pimlico and Laurel Park) from Magna Entertainment Corporation to its parent company, MI Development. On May 7, Penn National, with MI Development, announced they would jointly own and operate the Maryland Jockey Club. Penn National, which began in 1973, operating a thoroughbred race track near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has grown to become the largest racetrack operator in the country.
In June 2011, The Stronach Group took control of the tracks when MI Development bought out Penn National Gaming’s minority stake in the Maryland Jockey Club, which owned Laurel Park, Pimlico, and a training facility in Bowie. The Stronach Group is owned by Canadian horse breeder and owner Frank Stronach, who also was MI Development’s chairman and chief executive, a position he gave up in order to run Maryland’s racetracks. Penn National bought a 49-percent stake in the Jockey Club in 2010 in hopes of securing a slots license at Laurel Park.