It’s safe to say I’ve already got Triple Crown fever. Apart from keeping a running tab on the top ranking 3 year olds in the country headed to the Kentucky Derby, the real day of the year that I wait anxiously for is the running of the Preakness Stakes. It’s a Maryland tradition and something that I’ve been a regular attendee of since my Freshman year of college back in 1996.
In the old days we used to cram a bunch of frat guys and jocks together, coupled with all the female friends we could muster, and hop on a bus headed for Old Hilltop at around 6AM. Our destination was invariably the infield, in which you can go an entire day without even being aware that horse racing is going on. See that sea of humanity in the photo above? One of those would be me every year. I would try and carve us out a spot where we could both see the best of the infield and keep an eye on the racing action. Even back then I was an aspiring handicapper, you see.
I’ve got many fond memories of the sights and sounds that accompany a visit to the Preakness infield. From the clarion calls encouraging female spectators to bare their chests proudly, to the drunken lunatics racing along the tops of the portable bathrooms while running a gauntlet of thrown beer cans (full beer cans, I might add). I also remember fondly the muddy Preakness of 2003 (I think…alcohol consumption seems to have affected my ability to recall the date with certainty) where in order to get to said portable bathrooms one had to engage in mud-wrestling with total strangers.
Ah, such were the ways of my ignorant youth. Last year a good friend of mine bequeathed some amazing grandstand tickets to my wife and I. The experience was life changing to say the least. We sat near folks from the Thoroughbred Times on both Preakness and Black Eyed Susan day. I of course got to cheer on my beloved Curlin in the feature race, and was able to watch in awe both when Robbie Albarado mounted him and when he made his victory lap. Still, even with our newly found posh surroundings, there was still moments when I gazed into the infield to remember days of yore. The moment that caused me the most reflection was when a team of U.S. Air Force specialists parachuted into Pimlico, ostensibly to land on the giant “x” marks on the main track. Some wind caught the parachutists, however, and they were swept into the infield. In a moment that made me roar with laughter, one of the specialists slammed into a fence and hung upside down towards the infield crowd. It wasn’t long before he was being drenched in beer by cheering hooligans. He was a good sport about it though and raised his hands triumphantly, which brought on a roar from the crowd where we were sitting.
With that experience fresh in our minds (and parachute specialist faux-pas aside), the wife and I decided to try and get the best seats we could this year. We ended up opting for the Turfside Terrace – which are the tents you see in the photos above with their backs to the shenanigans of the infield. The seats ought to put us in perfect position for the final strides of the race, and even better position for when the jockeys get the call for “riders up.” The only bad thing is that we won’t be able to view the jumbo-tron and see what is happening during the races. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to handle that, but seeing as that I’m usually full of nervous energy at the track, I’ll likely be up and walking around anyway.
The Preakness is really the only triple crown event I can attend, as Pimlico is conveniently located from our home in Hanover, PA. Indeed, in order to exit our house that morning we’ll have to travel down streets called Derby Drive, Preakness Drive, and Race Horse Road.
I know we were probably spoiled last year, with arguably the best Preakness since Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, but I’m confident the day will still be amazing nonetheless. As the weather starts to turn and the spring rains arrive, I can’t help but gaze now at the calendar and think “how many more days until Preakness?”
I thought I’d end the post by sharing some of the Preakness moments that I’m most fond of over the years, starting with the aforementioned battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. If this one doesn’t give you chills, there’s something wrong with you. Listen to the roar of the crowd in the stretch!!!!
In my next Preakness memory, Smarty Jones pulls away from Lion Heart and Rock Hard Ten. The moment around the turn when Smarty takes the lead. I remember getting choked up thinking “my god, if he wins this he’ll go on to win the Triple Crown!!!” Who could’ve possibly foreseen Birdstone defeating him in the final moments of the Belmont two weeks later? Ah, to go back to that year and remember how this horse had the focus of the nation on him. At the end of the replay you hear the announcer comment “this is special!!!!’ Special indeed.
I couldn’t possibly end a Preakness post without posting the video from last year, where my wife and I added our voices to the throngs of fans yelling and screaming as Street Sense and Curlin battled it out down the stretch. A rush of emotion comes over me every time I watch this. These videos capture just about everything I love this sport, and hopefully show why Preakness Day is so very special to me.