Security crew will be off, running, too

May 15, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

You wouldn't want to be Willie Coleman. Not this week, anyway.

Coleman is in charge of security at Pimlico, and come Saturday, when some of the nation's top thoroughbred horses and about 90,000 racing fans come together for the Preakness, he'll be on call in a big way.

"It will be a tough week, that's for sure," said Coleman, who has headed security at Pimlico for two years. "But we're ready."

If they aren't ready, they will be by Saturday, when a force of 1,700 permanent and fill-in security officers -- a little more than half the size of the Baltimore City police force -- will attempt to keep the horses from the throng and the throng from hurting themselves.

"We're kind of pros at this now, so we think everything will be OK," said Coleman.

Jim Mango, Pimlico's general manager, says that "well within six figures" will be spent to bring about 70 off-duty city policemen, 300 officers from four state correctional institutions and 1,300 other trained security officials to the track.

Coleman said that at least 150 members of the detail will be assigned to the stable area alone to help protect the investments of some of racing's elite.

All of the Preakness horses are kept at one stable, the stakes barn, which makes security an easier task, according to Coleman and Mango. There are three shifts of seven security officers each at the stakes barn all this week. So far, there have been no problems.

Still, having all the horses, trainers and jockeys work from the same facility can make things a bit interesting.

"They're in the stakes barn for maximum exposure," said Mango. "It's quite amusing to see these competitive trainers joke with one another, talk with one another, sometimes get serious with one another.

"It all works out well, though. You don't have to worry about securing the trainers from each other because they're pretty good."

Karl Schmidt, vice president of corporate communications at Louisville's Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, said the horses there are kept in two barns, though trainers who are based at the track may elect to keep their horses in familiar surroundings.

Schmidt said Churchill Downs officials try to balance the need for security with an attempt to make the race and track as accessible to as many people as possible.

"We're right in the middle of the city -- just like Pimlico," said Schmidt. "People can come and look from the outside of the fence and look in and see where the Derby horses are grazing. And the neighbors do that, because they've been living there most of their lives.

"We have a lot of people that come through the Derby barn area every week, from local horsemen and their owner and some of their guests. The backstretch of Churchill Downs has a social setting and life of its own. A lot of people pass through there, but we try to keep a handle on them."

A lot of people will pass into the infield at Pimlico on Saturday, but Mango said that securing the horses from the crowd, expected to total at least 90,000, isn't as difficult as one might imagine. Rather than being rowdy and unruly, the crowd is well-behaved, Mango said.

"The reputation of the infield is greatly exaggerated," said Mango. "It is a very good crowd. It's a young, college-type crowd, but most of the things that you hear about it just aren't true."

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