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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eminent Preakness

For well over ten years, the legislature in Maryland dithered over slots while the industry there went well aways down the tubes (not that Magna needed any help in that regard). However, it took less than a week for it to pass "emergency" legislation to retain its treasured Preakness - “a sporting event of historical and cultural importance to the State of Maryland.” [NYT] By exercising eminent domain powers over the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the state would control the race no matter the fate of the Magna-owned tracks when they are auctioned off in July. I guess they could run the race at Rosecroft or at M&T Bank Stadium if they had to.

In 1984, the state attempted to seize the Baltimore Colts via eminent domain; but owner Robert Irsay got the jump and moved the team in the middle of the night. The courts later ruled that Colts had moved beyond Baltimore’s legal reach by the time the city had formally begun its seizure proceedings. Lawmakers are apparently determined to ensure that doesn't happen again, and to prevent Frank Stronach from overnighting the Woodlawn Vase to Canada.

However, the rush to pass the legislation, expected to be signed by Governor O'Malley on Tuesday, comes despite the fact that four potential buyers, including Orioles' owner Peter Angelos and the ubiquitous Halsey Minor, have expressed interest in continuing to operate the tracks. (Contrast that with the anemic bidding for Maryland slots licenses, as this blogger from the Baltimore Sun points out; and indeed, it's nice to read about people - dreamers perhaps - who still believe that this sport has a future....and who are willing to put their money behind it.)

Whatsmore, there's a question of whether a federal bankruptcy court would even recognize such a move by a state.

“It isn’t going to be as easy as they think,” said Alan Ackerman, a partner in Ackerman, Ackerman & Dynkowski, a law firm in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, that represents property owners in eminent domain cases. “States have a right to determine what constitutes public use, but the court would have to take a long look and ask whether this is really public use.” [Bloomberg]
Accordingly, some critics are skeptical of the bill's effectiveness and the motives behind it.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, said he was not sure the O’Malley’s plan would keep the Preakness in place.

“It’s not well-thought-out,” he said. “In fact, I suggest to you that this bill is political cover because the horse racing industry is on the ropes.” [Daily Record]
And then there were some arguments against that were not quite as well-thought-out.
"Let's not steal the Preakness," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., an Eastern Shore Republican. "Let's take it through a way that upholds capitalism." [Baltimore Sun]
Well, I know of at least one Republican who thinks that eminent domain is capitalism.

- The next court hearing on the Magna bankruptcy is scheduled for April 20.

- Paraneck's trainer John Campo Jr (recovering from surgery), is also wondering why nobody at Center Brook farm called the deteriorating situation to anyone's attention.
"The farm has never called our organization at Aqueduct Racetrack saying the horses needed help....They never said the horses are in trouble, they never said the horses aren't getting cared for, they never said the horses were getting neglected, they never said the horses weren't getting fed." [Daily Racing Form]


Anonymous said...

Great to see private interest in the MD tracks, it would be very interesting to see what Angelos would/could do with the tracks.

One idea that I always thought would be interesting would be a winter series of races between NY and Md breds, a reverse Sunshine Millions concept. Frozen Fortunes?

Another Republican (when it suits his needs) that absolutely loves eminent domain is our beloved Mayor Bloomberg. How is that project going in the Brooklyn?

Yeah, the one that took away many citizens long term homes for the "public good".

Superfecta said...

I'd love to see the Preakness move to Laurel - the physical plant there isn't nearly as lamentable as Pimlico.

Actually, I'd prefer to see it move to Delaware Park, just for my convenience, but Laurel would still be handy.

El Angelo said...

There's nothing wrong with Pimilico that a bomb couldn't cure.

Frank said...

Based on the Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo vs. New London case, I don't think there's any question about the eminent domain issue: the state's interest in protecting racing in Maryland is clearly far more compelling than the asserted state interest there, so it's close to a certainty that the courts would uphold the state here, imo.

As for where the Preakness is run... it ain't gonna be Laurel, and it sure ain't gonna be Del Park. As bad as Pimlico is, it's the only track in the region that's really set up to handle the crush of people that you get on Preakness day. You'd be looking at epic, Belmont-like traffic jams anywhere else -- and nowhere to put folks once they arrived.

Anonymous said...

Can they acquire just a horserace by eminent domain? Wouldn't they have to condemn and acquire Laurel and Pimlico in their entirety? The politicians sat back for years and just let this situation fester.

I'm no fan of Frank Stronach, but he's not the villain here. Nor at SA where the government's stupidly arrogant bureaucracy mandated an artificial surface.

I remember a bumper sticker I saw years ago - Crime wouldn't pay if the government ran it.


Glimmerglass said...

Does this mean the "Army v. Navy" game in Annapolis can be taken too ;>

I'm somewhat surprised the Meyerhoff family of Baltimore doesn't step in. They made a fortune in development and construction plus have a pronounced history of racing from Spectacular Bid to even a recent runner like Cave's Valley.

As an aside with the recent news of the Somali pirates it makes one wonder when "Arrrr" will reappear on the NY circuit!

Teresa said...

Meyerhoff and Trombetta teamed up for the Commonwealth win at Keeneland on Saturday with Eternal Star as well.

Anonymous said...

The Preakness needs help.

Baloo said...

Most people in Maryland fear Peter Angelos getting his hands on the Preakness. He has absolutely destroyed the Orioles franchise for the fans, while using it to pad is already huge wallet. If Pimlico was turned into a Belmont type "park", it would not only survive, but would thrive! I would like to see the Cordish company come out as the top winner.

Anonymous said...


Arrr ran Tues at Philly. Ran third I think.