Throughout the history of Baltimore and Maryland, there have been many long-standing traditions and venues that have gone by the wayside as well as many familiar faces we have lost. Remember the days of streetcars running in Baltimore, shopping at Hutzler’s department stores, going to the Enchanted Forest Theme Park , dining at Haussner’s Restaurant surrounded by the vast number of paintings, attending a game at Memorial Stadium or even catching a glimpse of Mayor Schaeffer in and around the city? In the land of pleasant living, the loss of these icons of our past makes us feel less special – as if a piece of us is gone for good. Granted there may be new icons replacing these lost icons, but it is far from the same.
Every spring as the flowers bloom and the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air, all of Maryland becomes acutely aware that Preakness is around the corner. This year will mark the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. While this event has become less about the actual horse race and more about an event to be seen at, it is still, at its essence, an important part of Maryland’s history as well as our national history. It is after all, the second leg of the crown jewel of Thoroughbred horse racing, the Triple Crown. Not only is this event nationally broadcasted, it generates a great deal of economic activity from the millineries to the horse breeders. It is estimated that Preakness generates between $40 and $60 million dollars in economic activity annually. It also brings to the city anyone who is anyone in Baltimore’s (Maryland’s) social circles as well as college students who invade the infield more for the party than the horse race. It is truly a unique Baltimore (Maryland) event.
While the Preakness Stakes is a highly visible event nationally and an economic boom to the industry, it just may not be enough by itself to continue to support the overall horse industry in Maryland. Based upon published estimates, the economic impact of the horse industry is $1.6 billion, with over half of that generated through racing. Every year, a renewed debate occurs regarding the status of the horse racing industry in Maryland. Given the challenges the industry in Maryland faces, from larger purses in other states to the presence of slots and table games at these out of state horse racing venues, the industry is struggling. This has manifested itself in the form of proposals to shorten the racing season as well as the closure of some venues.
While many may wonder whether horse racing in Maryland or Maryland’s horse industry fits in with our “Eds, Feds, Meds and Beds” economy, it not only fits in, it is one of the great icons that helps to define Baltimore and Maryland. However, if we do not take deliberative action to preserve this industry, we may find that one of our last remaining icons is on the ash heap of history.