Let's Hear It For the Boy
5:05 p.m.The horses enter the track for the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (gr. III). The one horse, Master Command, takes off, galloping down the track. The last horse to come out on the track is number seven, Funny Cide.As he makes his way down the track, he receives a warm round of applause that moves like "the wave" has trots his way past the grandstand.The fans at Pimlico haven't forgotten. Funny Cide won the Preakness in 2003 by 9 ¾ lengths and carried his Sackatoga Stable crew to New York for a shot at the Triple Crown.Funny Cide, now 6, doesn't have it today, though. He finishes third behind Master Command and Andromeda's Hero.
Piece of Cake
4:25 p.mAt the hospitality tent at the stakes barn, they're getting ready for the Preakness celebration party. Gold streamers are going up at one end as they set up the bar. At the other end, there is a huge, three-tiered cake.White icing. Black-Eyed Susan embellishments. Four words.On the top tier, it reads: CongratulationsSecond tier: 2006Third tier: Preakness winnerNext to the cake are two five-foot tall wooden pedestals with a pair of 27-inch Zenith TVs on top. One monitor shows there are two minutes to post for the 10th race at Pimlico. The other shows the prices following Baby Rusch's victory in the seventh at Belmont.Wooden folding tables and folding chairs are all around. On the left sits trainer Michael Matz with his son, Alex, and assistant trainer Peter Brette. They're dressed and ready to go for the Preakness with Barbaro.On the right sits trainer Kiaran McLaughlin with his brother Neal. Behind them is Nick Zito who will soon saddle Hemingway's Keys.They all watch the exciting finish of the CompUSA/Toshiba Dixie Stakes as Better Talk Now splits Artie Schiller and Dreadnaught.Nervous smiles after the finish.Who is going to get the biggest slice of the cake?
Getting a Line on the Attendance
1:40 p.m.Getting an accurate attendance figure at a major sporting event is difficult. Reported figures may or may not be based on a hard count. It's a little bit scientific, a little bit statistical.There are two methods I employ when gauging attendance. One is the "walk around." Walking around the second and third floors of the grandstand, it seems as if the total headcount is lighter than Preaknesses past. But I have to add in that it is still more than 4 ½ hours to post for the big race.The other method is how deep the lines are at the ladies' rest rooms. At one ladies' room on the third floor, the line is perhaps 20 deep to get in the door. On the second floor, the line snakes out the hall all the way to the stairs.Business might be better than I thought.One place that isn't doing a whole lot of business is the U.S. Army recruiting booth next to Alex's Lemonade Stand in the grandstand.Sgt. Paul Riley, a recruiter who is usually at his station at the nearby Mondawmin Mall, mans the booth. He hasn't gotten any recruits yet, but he has talked to a few prospects."It's not about getting recruits," he says. "It is just for exposure and to let us tell the Army story."You hear a lot of stories at the racetrack.
They're at the 3-16ths Pole
NoonWay down at the far end of the grandstand, and we're talking waaaay down at the end, just about at the 3-16ths pole, is Section UU. The area is only used one day a year -- today. The accommodations are, shall we say, rustic.The view down toward the finish line from the first three rows of Section UU is obscured by the doorway that leads down into a dark concourse where there are food and wagering options. The view toward the turn is obscured by the fencing that corrals infield patrons toward the tunnel underneath the track. A TV monitor is overhead, but you have to be seated a few rows back to see it.Seated in Row B, seat 12 is Nicole Weymouth. The 31-year-old environmental consultant from the Alexandria, Va., area is here with five of her friends. She paid $70 for the seat. It's her first trip to a racetrack."Every year when I see the Kentucky Derby, I say 'we're here by the Preakness, we should go one time for the fun of it,'" she says. How is the value of the racetrack experience so far?"I think a full day of entertainment, it'll be worth it," she says.She hasn't made a bet yet, but will before the day's over. "My brother-in-law has a bet in on Barbaro for me to place in a trifecta," she says. "But I'm going to scout it out."
Another racetrack experience is playing out at the "Hilltop Eatery" under section AA. Crab cakes aren't on the menu. The stand offers chicken and fries for $7.50, a hamburger for $5.75. A hot dog is $4, and soft drinks are $3.How about a cheeseburger?"No. Hamburger."Do you get lettuce and tomato?"No."A bun?"Yeah. And condiments are over there." A finger points to the left.At the condiment stand is a pump dispenser of barbeque sauce, a box of relish packets, and a 22-ounce squeeze bottle of mustard.Bon Appetit!
11:00 a.m.Maryland Jockey Club track superintendent Jamie Richardson surveys the track just prior to the second race. He's ready for today."It's fair," he declares. "It was fair yesterday, and it seems to be playing that way today. Inside, outside; speed, off the pace...I think the best horse will win today. The track's good and honest today."Richardson has a crew of six working on the main track today. Twenty-one are here to maintain the turf course."It's a big group effort to get this done," Richardson says.In the second race, the 13 horse--Fleet Valid--goes to the lead and wires the field easily as the 8-5 favorite. In the first race, Roth Ticket--the number 9 horse--comes from off the pace and wide in the stretch to win.Seems fair to me.
Good Day, Sunshine
10:55 a.m.Bright blue skies and sunshine bathe the corporate village in the infield at Pimlico. The tents in the village are named for previous winners of the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The tent just past the finish line belongs to Constellation Energy and is named for Hansel, winner of Preakness in 1991. The banner hanging at the entrance features green and yellow blocks for the silks of Lazy Lane Farm.At the entrance is a table with a stack of programs. There is also a small wicker basket with several tubes of sunscreen in it. Planning is everything.
That Certain Flare
10:45 a.m.A lot of people in the infield will go all day without seeing a horse. Kelly Steinhorn will be on a horse most of the day. Steinhorn is a member of the Baltimore Police mounted patrol, and she surveys the scene from the turf course. Her partner at the moment is Flare, a grey 15-year-old Oldenburg/Thoroughbred. They're pulling a four-hour shift right now. They'll get a break later, but will be on hand throughout the day at Pimlico."We'll be here all day," Steinhorn says. "And Flare will be on duty all day."Steinhorn has been a member of the force for 11 years and on mounted patrol for five years. She used to be into hunter/jumpers. It's her fifth Preakness. "We haven't had any problems," she reports. "People seem to back off when they see the horse." Flare does cut an imposing figure.The mounted patrol is stabled in makeshift stalls on the backside next to the Budweiser Clydesdales. That's keeping good company.
9:30 a.m.It's 60 minutes to the first post. It's time to start handicapping.Just inside the main entrance to Pimlico, Robert Shipman is selling Daily Racing Forms. The New Yorker has come down to sell "America's Turf Authority" for the day. He, along with two others, mans the two booths that have been turned side by side and are flanked by a portable table that has two tall stacks of papers.In his other life, Shipman is a juvenile probation officer. He figures they'll sell a thousand forms today from their stand. So far, his oddest request was one person who bought 10 copies at $5 a pop.
8:20 a.m.Trainer Michael Matz leans up against the rail outside the stakes barn, looking on at Barbaro as Preakness day begins. Matz makes small talk with a security guard. Barbaro peers out of his stall, the one traditionally reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner."Get any sleep last night?""Not much," he says, with his patented smile from underneath his blue cap with the yellow "VF." "I've been running the race over in my head a lot."Barbaro will get his chance in about 10 hours.
The Cart Before the Horse
8:05 a.m.A Preakness tradition is the "running of the carts." Neighborhood kids commandeer shopping carts from nearby establishments and assist in helping race-day patrons tote their supplies from the parking lots to the infield entrance.It apparently takes a lot of supplies to make it through the day in Baltimore. College-aged kids stroll by carrying 12 packs, cases, and 30 packs of their favorite "supplies" and ice, lots of ice. The carts come in handy. But they're not free."Twenty bucks," says Jamal Marhan, one of about 10 kids standing outside Rogers Market at the corner of Rogers and Winner Ave. near entrance 1 to Pimlico. This is his third year on the Preakness beat.The fee is not unreasonable...and it's probably negotiable.Down Rogers Ave., near the lot entrance is Jerry Leister II, one of Baltimore County's finest. He is surveying the scene. So far, all is well. It'll be a long day."I'll rotate between here and the tunnel if there is a problem," Leister says. He estimates between 50 and 60 people will be carted out of the infield throughout the day for various infractions. "That's not bad, considering the crowd. Generally, there's not too much problems."Anything unusual going by in the carts?"Nah, not really," he says. "It's just beer and ice, and that's about it. I never knew there were so many varieties, though."
Gooooood morning, Bal-ti-more!Welcome to Preakness morning. The weather for Preakness 131 should be ideal for a horserace. The forecast is for temps in the low '70s with just a chance of showers. For mid-to-late May, it's a little cool out there right now.Sunrise? 5:49 a.m. Post time? 6:12 p.m. Pace makes the race.When we left Pimlico early last evening, morning line favorite Barbaro had been settled into the traditional Kentucky Derby winner's stall in the stakes barn just off Winners Ave. in the stable area.He wasn't alone. There seemed to be an overabundance of videographers and hangers-on in the area.Hopefully, they were rooted out; but it doesn't really matter when they left. They figure to be right back early on...and they also figure to stay, all the way up until post time.
Dynaformer's DynamicsKiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Like Now, the likely pacesetter in this afternoon's Preakness, said he is rolling the dice in the event Barbaro doesn't run his race following just a two-week layoff after the Derby. "He's never come back in two weeks," McLaughlin said, "and history says horses do react back off a quick rest. But he could react and still beat us."
McLaughlin knows more than just a little about Barbaro's sire, Dynaformer, since he trained the distance-loving colt "his whole life" while working as an East Coast assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. "Barbaro is going to want the mile and a half (of the Belmont), so this is our chance to beat him," he said.
"Dynaformer was the toughest horse I ever trained," McLaughlin recalled. "He was a very difficult horse to be around: a big strong colt who wanted to run off every day. He was very well bred and maybe meant to be a turf runner, but in those days there weren't many $1-million turf races."
Dynaformer ran just once on grass as a 3-year-old, then set a course record for about 1 ½ miles at Keeneland the next time he raced on the turf as a 4-year-old in 1989.