The great race

May 14, 1993

It's only a horse race, the way the Olympic Marathon is only a foot race. The eyes of the sporting, betting and horsey worlds will be on Old Hilltop tomorrow at 5:32 p.m. when a horseman's dozen of the best three-year-olds anywhere run counter-clockwise a mile and three-sixteenths for glory, fame, improvement of the breed and millions of dollars in purse and stud fees.

It comes in those few magic days in Baltimore when the azaleas of a late spring are at their best, when every neighborhood and institution has a festive fete and when, with a little deftly applied shoe polish, every daisy is a black-eyed susan.

A good time indeed for the eyes of the world to be on Baltimore. This race dominates our lives. The fortunate among us will be at the track in good seats. Others will be stretched out on the infield, sun-bathing, beer-filled and possibly asleep. Still more will be at backyard Preakness parties watching the race on television or, as taste may dictate, not watching the thing on television. And many, many more are planning their weekend mobility to avoid the traffic streams the great race will generate. Whichever of these roles we fill, we cannot ignore the Preakness.

Difference of opinion makes not only horse races but newspapers. Is this year's crop of three-year-olds up to standard? Will Sea Hero, the Kentucky Derby winner, go for the Triple Crown? Or does its use of the drug Laxix in Kentucky, which it may not use in Maryland, give Sea Hero a disadvantage here?

This year the Great Race comes after a prolonged recession that has affected horse breeding and racing nationwide. Famous horse farms are going out of business, proposals are made to reinvest or rationalize the capital plants, and to change the betting practices.

The state itself, through the lottery, competes ever-more aggressively with the horse industry. The 118th running of the Preakness Stakes becomes a strong point behind which the industry can rally.

The Preakness is a great occasion in Maryland's year.

There may be a World Series (doubtful this year). There's the All-Star Game, just this once. Someday, perhaps, a worthy successor to the Colts.

But the Preakness is dependable, on schedule, whether the dogwoods are late or early, a great moment in sport and the show-off time of Maryland's great horse breeding and racing tradition.

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