For the serious party crowd, a day inside the oval is an infield hit

May 19, 1991|By Don Markus

On the front pocket of Ron Waldemyre's maroon T-shirt, it said, "Professional Loser." The back of it read, "The Torture Never Stops."

Welcome to the Pimlico infield, Preakness 1991.

It was a little past 10 yesterday morning, and Baltimore's biggest party was well under way. A band with the appropriate name of Life or Death blared in the background, but it was more a sideshow than the main event.

Actually, there were an estimated 55,000 headliners expected to crowd onto this stage of wall-to-wall blood, sweat and beers. Some came for the races, but, in the infield, they were clearly in the minority.

"I don't think most of the people care about the horses," said Waldemyre, who came with friends from York, Pa., the past five years. "Most come for the beer, the girls and to party."

Two years ago, Waldemyre partied a little too much. He forgot to cash in his ticket on Preakness winner Sunday Silence, "Drunk," said Waldemyre, who woke up in his own Sunday silence to make the discovery.

Sam Geissinger was taking in the unseemly scene. Sitting on a lounge chair, watching all the girls go by, Geissiner seemed astounded by the mass of inhumanity.

He also felt a little out of place.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Geissinger, 58, an investigator for the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. "Is it like this on the other side?"

Geissinger, who accompanied his daughter, Samanna, and some of her friends, lives in a town called Barnsville, population 200. Consider this: There were more people walking through the tunnel leading to the infield than in the entire town.

A horse lover, Geissinger appeared to have trouble grasping the idea of the infield. "I can't believe people would sit back here and not want to watch the race," he said, a slightly bemused, or confused, look on his face.

There are those who do come for the race; indeed, they come for all 11 races, and they don't merely come to Pimlico one Saturday every year and forget its very existence for the rest of the racing season.

For those people who take their horses with more than a grain of hay, the Preakness can be something of an inconvenience. Richard Smith of Pikesville, who usually comes once a week, couldn't get a good look at the horses or the jockeys as they make their way from the paddock.

"There's a lot of hype to this day -- just look at some of the prices," said Smith. "It's gotten bigger and bigger, but it's also gotten more and more expensive."

To wit: price of a candy bar, $1.25.

It was quiet out by the stakes barns late yesterday morning. The steady flow of traffic still was pouring in, but the celebration went unnoticed by the celebrated occupant of Stall 33.

Strike the Gold had just gotten up from a late-morning nap. "He knows what's going on. He knows it's his day," said John Ginn, who helped break the future Kentucky Derby winner as a yearling on Calumet Farm.

Ginn said the son of Alydar always has been something of a showoff, and was unbothered by the commotion surrounding him. "If you got a horse that can keep his composure in the paddock, it's half the battle," said Ginn.

Outside the back gate, along West Rogers Avenue, business was a bit slow. There were only a couple of cars parked in Tyrone and Thelma Cook's backyard, across the street from the racetrack.

But Danny Bass was there, in spirits as well as body. Had been since 5 in the morning.

Bass, who works in promotions for a Cleveland radio station and aspires to be a disc jockey, started coming to the Preakness four years ago. A regular at the Kentucky Derby, Bass and a friend drove around for a long time searching for the pre-race party very early Saturday morning.

"We kept driving around and around the racetrack, and there was no party," recalled Bass. "So we went downtown, and there was a guy in the street near the harbor. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and getting sick right there in the middle of the street. My friend said, 'The party's here.' He was right."

Bass has become such a regular around West Rogers Avenue for the Preakness that the Cooks let him shower before he starts Cto party. He seems a ntural for the infield, but he has opted for a $35 grandstand seat.

"It's a looser crowd than the Derby," said Bass, who seems looser than most at this hour. "At the Derby, everybody is there is to impress everybody else, with their dresses and their hats and their bright green jackets."

Bass raises his champagne glass.

A toast?

There is plenty of champagne being poured inside the Preakness Village. If business is bad in corporate America, you couldn't tell by looking at the corporate tents.

For the most part, the tents were filled with people who looked as if they didn't belong in the infield. They might not have looked famous, but they certainly looked rich.

"I think people make exceptions to certain rules," said Barb D'Andrea, executive administrative assistant for the retail sales vice president of Pepsi. "And I think Preakness Day is the exception. It loosens things up."

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