Pimlico- As even part-time railbirds know, every triple crown race has a traditional song, flower, and cocktail:
Kentucky Derby: “My Old Kentucky Home,” Roses, Mint Julep Preakness: “Maryland, My Maryland,” Black Eyed Susans squared Belmont Stakes: “Streets of New York” (I’m old school that way), Carnations, Manhattan
But indeed, there’s more to the tradition than that. In both Kentucky and Maryland, the main event has a premier Grade I stakes race that precedes it the day before. In Louisville it’s the Kentucky Oaks, and here in Baltimore it’s the Black Eyed Susan, and yesterday was the 88th running.
So for the second year in a row, me and some local Baltimore friends headed over to fabled Pimlico Raceway the day before The Preakness.
In some ways Pimlico is to horse racing what Wrigley or Fenway is to baseball: the vestige of an earlier era, when spectator sports were thoroughly integrated into the everyday fabric of city life. In particular, those facilities, and many others long since vanished, were plunked down amid vibrant urban neighborhoods. I live almost smack dab in the middle of Baltimore, and from my house Pimlico is only a couple of mile sas the crow flies, and surrounded by row homes.
But the neighborhood where it sits, also called Pimlico, fell on hard times several decades ago. And of course horse racing as a sport doesn’t do nearly as well as it used to. The truth is, if not for the Preakness, the track at Pimlico probably would have shuttered years ago, leaving yet another dilapidated blight in a struggling neighborhood.
Consequently, as is the case at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Debry Day, Preakness Day at Pimlico is utter madness. Both facilities open up their infields to customers, where they lure patrons by promoting a bacchanalian atmosphere. It’s an attempt to maximize revenues by catering to people who don’t know shinola about racing. The result is kinda like St. Paddy’s Day and Cinco de Mayo rolled into one, with some horse racing on the side.
It’s an utter fiasco.
And what about the rest of Pimlico’s season? These days, there are horses running at the place for less than a month, and for most of that it’s little more than a ghost town.
But the day before the Preakness, when they run the $300,000 Black Eyed Susan, is a real sweet spot. Why? To begin with, mid-May weather in Baltimore is about all you could ask for. Yesterday was typical: 79 and sunny. But beyond that, there are enough people to make the place feel alive, while not being overrun with drunken yay-yo’s who don’t know shit about horses.
This year, there were thirteen races on tap, seven of them graded stakes races, including the Pimlico Special and the Jim McKay Stakes. Top that.
I also managed to hook up with a NY-born, Kentucky-based horse owner/manager who got us tickets to the fancy-fancy clubhouse with free beer and crab cakes. That was nice. But truth be told, I spent most of the day in the $5 General Admission cheap seats, near the rail, with a flask of honey bourbon. It tastes good even when warm.
All in all, the day was a success. Me and the boys, along with thousands of other Baltimoreans, re-lived the sport’s glory days, and it was a beautiful thing. PS, I bet races 3-12 and lost about 20 bucks. All in all, a great day. And today I’ve got 9 on the 9. Bank it.
Cheesy Bruin breaks the bank tomorrow.