Going Home to the Preakness
I grew up 15 minutes from Pimlico. I saw my first race there. It was so long ago that the grandstand was pretty much filled. My oldest brother and I sat in what we thought were empty seats, with newspapers draped over them. What we found out when two angry men returned was the newspaper left behind was the universal signal that the seat was occupied. Kind of ironic that I ended up in newspapers covering horse racing.
My first Preakness was 1973. If you watch old films of Secretariat storming through the stretch, I am one of those people running from the infield right up next to the rail, the great horse close enough to touch, but really so fast that he was by me in an instant on his way to legend.
Last Saturday was Preakness No. 144, No. 44 for me. It is my favorite Triple Crown race because, even after 34 years of working in Philadelphia, Baltimore is home, Pimlico is my hometown track and I love going back.
Pimlico has easily the best setup for the Triple Crown races, the horses in the Preakness barn a very short walk from the back of the grandstand. So many great memories of unforgettable races – Affirmed refusing to let Alydar by, hometown hero Spectacular Bid overwhelming the field, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer inseparable in the homestretch, Smarty Jones winning by what is still the biggest margin in Preakness history, Afleet Alex miraculously recovering from a near-fall and winning easily, and then the tragedy of Barbaro.
There is a chance that next year will be the last Preakness at Pimlico. That makes me kind of sad and not a little nostalgic. I’m not close enough to it to understand the disconnect behind the Stronach Group’s wish to move the race to Laurel Park and the city of Baltimore wanting it to stay at what would eventually have to be a rebuilt and/or refurbished Pimlico, a facility fairly described as being near the end of its useful life.
Whatever happens next, it was nice to see a deserving Preakness winner in War of Will for one of America’s great trainers, Mark Casse. I spent a lot of time Friday and Saturday touring old haunts, seeing old friends, showing a first-timer around Pimlico and checking out the Preakness horses.
I decided to watch the race from the old grandstand in a seat that must have been somewhere near that seat I was in very briefly all those years ago. This time, I had a credential so I could pretty much hang anywhere. When War of Will crossed the finish line right in front of me, I was back in the moment until I wasn’t.
When I left, I knew I would be back next year. But I also knew that there may not be another next year when I leave the track in 2020. That was harder to process and, regardless of who is right about what, difficult to understand.