Daily Record Business Writer
April 16, 2009 8:15 PM
Despite the recent efforts to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, the race’s status as the second leg of the Triple Crown is only loosely protected by a marketing group and trademark that do not legally bind it to any state.
And at least one member of that group is concerned about a new owner’s potential impact on the Triple Crown brand.
“I would argue that if you were to move the Preakness from Pimlico you would have a new construct, and you might still call it the Triple Crown, but I wouldn’t call it the Triple Crown,” said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association Inc., which owns the Belmont Stakes. “We’re watching this very closely.”
Technically, a developer could buy Preakness and Pimlico but still move the race to an out-of-state track without violating the articles of incorporation of Louisville-based Triple Crown Productions LLC or the Triple Crown trademark.
“We’re all speculating about that,” said Alan Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association. “To me, the Triple Crown is the Preakness at Pimlico. Could that change one day? Sure ... but I think there are too many unknowns right now and people don’t know where this is going yet.”
Foreman and others noted the racing industry is encouraged by emergency legislation signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley this week that would allow the city of Baltimore to take Pimlico and Preakness by eminent domain, effectively binding the race with the Baltimore track. But the state can’t exercise its power to seize the properties now because their owner is in bankruptcy.
“The state is stayed from taking any action after the bankruptcy filing so it would have to get the court’s permission to do that,” said Laurence Coppell, a bankruptcy attorney with Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC in Baltimore.
In essence, history and tradition built up the Preakness as the second jewel in the Triple Crown, and those factors are what’s keeping it there today — and what industry officials said they hope will keep it there in the future.
The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes have been referred to as the Triple Crown races since the 1930s. But their official designation as such and the Triple Crown trophy didn’t arrive on the scene until 1950, when the Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioned Cartier to design a trophy for the horse that won all three races in a season.
The term “Triple Crown Challenge” was later trademarked by the TRA — then based in New York, but now headquartered in Maryland — to promote thoroughbred horse racing through “a system establishing for awarding prizes to the owners of thoroughbred horses based upon their finish in a series of thoroughbred horse races.”
That trademark, which does not specifically designate the three races as each leg in the series, was transferred to Triple Crown Productions when it was formed in 1987 to market and promote the three races. The company is made up of Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the Kentucky Derby; the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the Preakness; and NYRA, which owns the Belmont.
So even without a site-specific trademark, the glue holding the three races together was clear, said Joseph A. De Francis, former president of the Maryland Jockey Club.
“Without approval of Triple Crown Productions — since the owners of TCP are the three racetracks — no one’s going to allow another race in there or make a change without their approval,” he said.
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