The Middle Jewel

May 14, 1993

The race is not always to the swift, but that's the way to bet. It never rains on Preakness Day. The sole purpose of racing is the improvement of the breed. (Make that the soul purpose.)

The Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, is when all eyes are on Baltimore, when some 90,000 folks (who counts?) are at Pimlico Race Course, many of them actually watching the race, when the world follows the galloping steeds on television, when millions who normally do not care about horse racing can tell you at 6 p.m. who won, and remember it the morning after.

It will never be as big a day in Baltimore as Kentucky Derby Day in Louisville, Ky., because this town is too big and sophisticated for that. Similarly, it will always be a bigger deal here than the Belmont Stakes in New York, because New York is that much more sophisticated and no one there who is not actually at Belmont Park or in a betting parlor cares about that race. If you add Louisville and New York and divide by two, you get Baltimore. Midway in-between.

The horse racing industry in Maryland has been on a muddy track for a couple of years. Recessions are not good for it. Horse owning and betting are, except for the truly addicted, discretionary activities and demand for them is elastic. Good times would do more for racing here than more racing days. Racing is a billion dollar industry for Maryland on which many families depend.

The Preakness briefly lifts that industry, puts the spotlight on Baltimore, makes Pimlico the biggest track in the nation for a day. It provides a momentum on which to build a season.

Pimlico has undergone many improvements but needs more, as deteriorating wooden barns testify. The ambitious expansion plan announced for neighboring Sinai Hospital is a good omen for institutional investment south of Northern Parkway between Greenspring Ave. and Park Heights Ave. Anyone who doubts Pimlico has the necessary public support has only to go to the Preakness. Or, for that matter, watch the thing on television.

Either way, the Preakness is a big, proud, tradition-deep day for Baltimore. May every horse win and all bettors cash winning tickets.

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