Baltimore Del. Nick Mosby released photos today that he said show the “slum-like” conditions for backstretch workers at Laurel Park and illustrate the track’s owners, The Stronach Group, prioritize “horses over humans.”
He called for the withdrawal of paired bills that would authorize $120 million in state bonds to turn Laurel Park into a “super track,” a project that would ultimately move the Preakness Stakes from Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, and said the state should withhold any subsidies until Stronach improves the conditions for the grooms, exercise riders, hotwalkers and workers who live along the backstretch.
In a letter to Sen. Pam Beidle and Del. Mark Chang of Anne Arundel County, the sponsors of the “super track” legislation, Mosby (40th District) wrote: “This shanty town resides in the shadows of beautiful new barns where horses reside in climate controlled, clean stalls with running water in the building. Imagine the human indignity of leaving a concrete cell to work with animals that are provided better living conditions.”
Mosby sent a separate letter to Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman calling on the county to shut down the dormitories until Stronach makes repairs with its own money. Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to Pittman’s office for comment.
A caption with one of the pictures says dorms near the horse barns are 10 feet by 10 feet and accommodate two people “without water, plumbing, or adequate air circulation.” Mosby said he was approached “by an individual associated with the horse racing industry in Maryland.”
Images show exposed wires, deteriorating air conditioning units and mold in the shared bathrooms. Mosby included a Baltimore Sun article from 2003, titled “‘Life is raw’ on backstretch,” in which Frank Stronach, then the new owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, promised new facilities.
“These substandard living conditions show a lack of investment in the conditions for track workers despite the knowledge of the owners of Laurel Park dating back to 2002,” he wrote.
A representative for Stronach Group said the buildings are older facilities and the company also offers apartment-style living in a development called Laurel Commons. Those units cost $200 per month for single occupancy and $150 per person per month for double occupancy, with the funds going to a nonprofit, Laurel Quality of Life, Inc., to cover utilities and upkeep. The dorms are rent free.
Per Stronach, Laurel Commons has 40 apartments and about 80 residents, and the dorms have 72 rooms and about 100 people living there.
In a statement, Stronach Group said it has received approval from the Maryland Racing Commission to build a new 115-room dormitory and appeared to link their fate to the “super track” bills.
“[Maryland Jockey Club] is waiting for final permit approval and input from legislators on the future of the three track properties.”
Beidle told The Sun she would not withdraw the “super track” bill, but agreed Laurel Park “can’t have unlivable conditions.”
Stronach Group has been investing considerable resources into Laurel Park. A Baltimore Sun analysis found that, since 2013, the company has received $22.5 million from the state via Maryland’s Racetrack Facilities Renewal program. Of that, 90 percent has been used to refurbish Laurel Park, with projects including new barns for the horses and grandstand renovations.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, the Baltimore City Council and residents of nearby Park Heights last week sued Stronach Group, asking a city circuit court to condemn Pimlico and the Preakness so that the city could take over the track and find a new operator for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The Stronach Group has said operating two tracks is not viable, and has not committed to contributing any funds to a $424 million plan, endorsed by the city, to reorient the track at Pimlico and construct a new grandstand that would serve as community space on non-racing days.