The party After the Preakness, people in the know race to the parking lot for Mary Frieda Hale's crab cakes and tailgate party

May 20, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

IT'S BEEN about 20 minutes since handsome Hansel, the Derby Dud, made a shambles of the Preakness.

In the parking lot beside Barn 33, little groups of people are forming between the stables and the rows of white Chryslers, company cars from the sponsor of the Triple Crown.

This is the barn where the eight Preakness horses are stabled, the runners that prompted racing fans nationwide to part with about $18 million.

There is some chatter, but these people don't seem to be lamenting the money they lost or slow horses.

They're waiting for the bar to open.

They have also come for Mary Frieda Hale's crabcakes, pure backfin delicacies which she and her late husband, Grayson Hale, started making nearly 40 years ago in their seafood carry-out in Parkville.

Mrs. Hale still helps out occasionally in the crabhouse kitchen, and every Preakness throws on her apron once again when her son Lenny comes home from New York and hosts a tailgate party which has become a Preakness tradition.

Hale, 46, is a hometown boy that made good. He grew up in Overlea and graduated from Overlea High School near where his parents operated their seafood business.

He had a love for horses, eventually showed them professionally and even once took a job helping hunt the hounds at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club.

He took Nick Zito, the quintessential boy from Queens and trainer of the Preakness favorite, out to see the hounds earlier in the week and to visit Native Dancer's grave at Sagamore Farm.

Years ago when Hale tired of the hunt, he switched careers to the racetrack. In pretty quick succession he rose from a job on the starting gate crew at Florida tracks to a senior vice president of the New York Racing Association.

Each year Hale comes home for the Preakness, not only for a family reunion, but also to serve as a sort of roving ambassador for the Belmont Stakes.

Even before the Preakness result is a half hour old, before the horses are cooled out, Lenny and his mom are unloading their old Chevrolet Suburban and dishing out crabcakes and booze and getting people in a Belmont frame of mind.

It's hard to beat the backdrop. The sport's most beautiful thoroughbreds that were being profiled on ABC just an hour ago stroll around the shedrow, taking gulps of water from buckets after 1 minute 54 seconds of physical exertion.

Strike The Gold, the distanced Derby winner who finished sixth and represents about $8 million in losing wagers, has such a

springy walk, it looks like he could run again, and maybe win.

''Too bad they don't run this thing in heats,'' a friend quipped to Ed Bowen, editor of the Lexington (Ky.)-based Blood-Horse magazine.

Joe Lombardo, the radio-show talk host, once likened Lenny's shindig to a cast party after the show, the first chance people involved in producing the Preakness have to wind down and have a drink. It's also a good way to wait for the traffic to clear.

A cross section of the racetrack drifts through the parking lot, from stewards to television personalities, from trainers and owners to track officials and grooms. Even photographers and the great turf writers like Billy Reed and Bill Nack stop by.

Trudy McCaffery, owner of third-place finisher Mane Minister, raves about Baltimore hospitality. ''I don't care if I have a horse in the race next year or not,'' she said to a friend. ''I'm coming back.'' McCaffery dressed appropriately for the occasion. She wore a yellow cotton suit with a black hat, and looked like a walking Black-Eyed Susan.

Joe De Francis, president of the track, drops by. So does Eugene Alston, a groom for the Emilo Alecci stable.

Each grabs a beer and a crabcake, if there are any left, as have people like Charlsie Cantey, LeRoy Jolley, Dave Anderson, Frank Wright, jockey Andrea Seefeldt and Chris Lincoln, commentator for the ESPN ''Racing Across America'' series.

''How do you explain that the horses that were ninth and 10th in the Kentucky Derby end up finishing 1-2 in the Preakness,'' Lincoln said. ''We're not as smart as we think we are.''

People discuss the condition of the track, the breeding of the winner, little snafus and foul-ups during the long day at the races.

''Thank God for Capt. Tom,'' an official said. Apparently, the corporate crowd in the tented village got a little too festive, but the burly security guard kept them under control.

''After the Derby, people said a son of [the stallion] Woodman couldn't get the classic distance,'' said David Heckerman, editor of the Thoroughbred Times. ''Now that's all changed. Hansel's a winner.''

Michael Whittingham feeds his losing horse Whadjathink a piece of candy. The horse nickers, goes crazy for another treat.

Someone said Hansel might not go in the Belmont. Hale dispenses the last beer to the horse's trainer, Frankie Brothers.

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