August 6, 2020

From Pimlico infield to neighborhood, a most memorable Preakness

Preakness Day scene at Pimlico (c) Spencer Tulis/Horsephotos.com

I was alone in my despair, with my hands on my knees and bent over at the waist, in the land of stumbling and slurring.

Amongst lobster-red sunburns, quarreling drunk couples and gyrating youths, I had just watched my largest wager of the day go down in flames through the throbbing bass of Logic’s infield performance during Preakness Day.

A few of the dapper young sons of Maryland noticed the Dixie Stakes (G2) had started, and mockingly rooted for the horses for the first few strides before they returned to the music. So I may have been the only one watching Admission Office weave through traffic under Joel Rosario on the inside to just miss against the classy Catholic Boy.

“Come on Joel! Come on Joel! Come … on … Joel … Guh!” I said, with a solid lean to the right through the stretch.

I couldn’t be mad for too long. Admission Office owes me nothing after his last win at Keeneland and Catholic Boy doesn’t, either, after his Travers (G1) win. It was actually kind of nice to see him return to that form.

But why would I choose to watch the Dixie out on the infield, instead of my plush plastic folding chair on the second floor of the Pimlico grandstand?

The people in my row were actually quite nice and knew horses–one group worked at a local farm and the others were gamblers–but the surrounding babblers were getting too much to handle.

One well-dressed older woman with a fancy hat spewed misinformation repeatedly about the death of Congrats Gal the day before. The way she told it, the filly broke down during the race, when in fact Congrats Gal actually experienced a “sudden death,” likely a coronary event, after the race was finished. Others in the surrounding groups said things like, “That’s the horse! Homeland Security won the Derby by default!” and another called The Stronach Group “Canadian commies.”

If I was going to suffer that kind of commentary (along with most of the grandstand bathrooms not working), I might as well go out to the infield for the first (and maybe last) time. All of my previous years at the Preakness (G1) were experienced as a member of the working press, so I often found myself in front of a computer screen in the press box rather than observing Pimlico with wide-open eyes.

It’s easy to scoff at the infield revelers from afar, but up close the absurdity is somewhat endearing. There were bouncing, barely dressed coeds posing for pictures by being lifted over the heads of massive Marines (while they were standing on top of a Hummer!), people inappropriately touching horse statues and–GASP–nobody was on their phone.

This was a most startling development. The oft-maligned Millennials and Gen Z-ers (or whatever you call the next generation), were fully in the moment, albeit mostly inebriated, and having tons of fun.

As much fun as I was having out with the drunken and sweaty, I wasn’t going to watch the Preakness from the infield, so I re-mingled with the drunken and not as sweaty in the grandstand.

The pre-race moments were not without incident, as a brawl broke out in one of the fancy infield tents while Preakness horses were getting saddled on the turf course, which may or may not have contributed to War of Will having a short freak-out session.

But maybe the most charming aspect of the Preakness is that it is very much Maryland’s race. The Kentucky Derby is very much Kentucky and the Belmont is very much New York, but those Triple Crown stops sometimes feel more invaded by outsiders. If you couldn’t tell by the ever-present, state-flag-themed accoutrements, it became clear during the post parade, when the local connections of Alwaysmining and Win Win Win got the most applause.

The race was thoroughly enjoyable, even if it further dented my wallet, as War of Will bounced back from his troubled Derby run and Bodexpress was eventually corralled safely, but the highlight of the entire day came walking out of the decrepit racecourse.

Normally the hours after the Preakness, for me, are spent writing any number of things about the race or the other races on the card, but on Saturday I got to experience the joy of the post-Preakness neighborhood.

Pretty much anything you wanted was on offer from street vendors–loosies, beverages, delicious food–and people were having a blast. I stumbled upon a front-yard party where Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy” was blasting. A white man with a skimmer hat and a buttoned-up blue suit was dancing in sync with a black man in a white T-shirt, both elevated on the porch over the cramped crowd.

Uber and Lyft rides weren’t allowed anywhere near Pimlico, so I hoofed it to my aunt’s house, which sits about three miles away in Mount Washington. The feel was joy mixed with exhaustion, as most of those around had emptied out from the infield.

As I crossed Northern Parkway and trudged up Pimlico Road, one young woman couldn’t help but dance and grind directly on me for a few seconds, but then the calm of the neighborhood set in, although I passed several groups of young concertgoers laying on the side of the road for Uber drivers who wouldn’t venture into the traffic beast surrounding the racetrack.

Deeper into the neighborhood, as I passed many orthodox Jews (the sun wasn’t all the way down yet) moving about, I thought about the day, my gambling beats and missteps, and how much I love the Preakness.

As lightning lit up the sky and thunder clapped in the distance, I realized this would be the Preakness I remembered more than any other.

4 Comments on From Pimlico infield to neighborhood, a most memorable Preakness

  1. I went to the Preakness the year Amercan Pharoah won. Our taxi cab driver would not take us within 6 blocks of the pimlico track. He was too scared of the neighborhood. The facility was terrible. The facility condition is actually embarrassing for the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland. I will say that the people were by far the friendliest and the vendors and other people working that day were the best of any track I have been too. Not enough to overcome the facility and its location. Will not come back to this facility.

    • You relied on a single cabby to conclude that the neighborhood was not safe? As one who has been to Pimlico thousands of times, I can assure you that creating a sweeping generalization about an entire neighborhood is most unfortunate!

  2. My only Preakness was in 1969 when Majestic Prince “won.” I think the attendance was something like 42,000. I was an Aqueduct regular at the time and Pimlico struck me as a real backwater track. Sadly Aquduct is a real dump now and Belmont has gone the way of Pimlico being essentialy a one day a year racetrack. (Things were so much better when the Belmont was just the sixth race on the card.)

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