BALTIMORE --- It's possible that the middle jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown could be run in a different setting than Pimlico Race Course.
As the track prepares to open its spring meet today, an air of uncertainty permeates the stables.
Pimlico and the state's most prestigious race, the Preakness, will be put up for auction in August, with nearby Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center, because of federal bankruptcy filings by Canada's Magna Entertainment Corp.
A hearing will be held Monday in Delaware on the proposed bidding procedures for Magna's assets.
One of the many parties seeking the attention of the bankruptcy judge is the state of Maryland, which will be represented by Greg Cross, the head of bankruptcy litigation at Baltimore's Venable law firm.
"What we're going to do on Monday is aggressively defend the state's right to match any offer made for the Preakness Stakes," Cross said.
According to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, Maryland race tracks generate an estimated 20,000 jobs and have an annual economic impact of $1.5 billion.
"It's not so much about Preakness 2010, 2011 and so on. There's confidence that as we move forward that the Preakness will be here in Maryland for years to come," said Tom Chuckas, the president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club. "I think the uncertainty here is much more on a staff level. At the end of the day, who gets the property and what happens to the people here?"
Legislators in Maryland have attempted to ensure that the 134th running of the Preakness in May won't be the last in Baltimore, but there is no guarantee that the auction will end favorably.
O'Malley signed legislation this week designed to give Maryland eminent domain authority over its tracks and the Preakness. Although there is some question as to whether the law will be viable in a federal case, the action speaks loudly about the state's support of its racing industry.
"We are going to do everything we can to protect the interests of the people of our state, interests that we have as a state in not only the Preakness, but also in keeping racing in Maryland," O'Malley said.