Wherever they sit, fans get a taste of local flavor

HOMESPUN FUN IN THE SUN

May 16, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

A veteran of 23 Preaknesses, Glenda Gaines of Germantown has developed a race-going style all her own.

On a picture-perfect day, when 85,495 fans jostled for a glimpse of the race, Gaines and about 15 of her closest friends and relatives staked out a spot in front of a wide-screen television in the back of the bargain-priced mezzanine section.

From this spot under a staircase, far from the sunshine and horses, she served up plate after plate of spicy paleau, curried-chicken ruti and other West Indian dishes from her native Trinidad.

"I just feed everyone. It's a fun day, not a serious betting day," she said, explaining her home-grown "who-beat-who" handicapping system.

From beer-sopped blankets on the infield to $95 box seats at the finish line, the diversity of the Preakness was showcased yesterday by aficionados and novices alike.

There were homemade black-eyed Susan hats and bikinis, tattoos and silk ties. Unlike last year, when rap star Hammer headed an entourage of celebrities, there weren't many luminaries from out of town. Country singer Reba McEntire was there, but most of the recognizable faces were from the local area, such as ex-Colt Tom Matte and ex-Oriole Jim Palmer.

Among the politicians in attendance were Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, whose state is in the process of adding pari-mutuel thoroughbred racing.

*

Asked for the meaning of the day, Robert Lambrecht of Erie, Pa., summed it up this way: "Cold Budweiser, National Premium, old friends and many bets."

Brooke Gentner, a horse breeder and owner who watched the races from the spacious and orderly box seats, put it differently.

Dressed in a black blouse and yellow blazer, Gentner pointed to the infield and said, "It's wonderful to come and see the crowd, but I'm glad I'm not down there.

"It's great to see the great horses. It perks up our hopes to get a horse in the Preakness someday," she said.

Dr. Frank Oski, chairman of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said he gets an $800-a-year season box seat primarily for the Preakness.

"It's a nice spectacle. I like to see people dressed in black and yellow and the pageantry of it," he said.

Across the track, in the pricey corporate tents of Pimlico Race Course's infield, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein was munching on grilled capon and sauteed vegetables.

"You walk around and meet people from all around Maryland. It's a showcase of Maryland hospitality," Goldstein said.

Elsewhere in the state's tent, trimmed in black, yellow and red bunting, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, an artist and promoter of Maryland moviemaking, autographed prints of his Preakness poster.

In and around the other tents, executives and executive-hopefuls networked to the swing tunes of a 12-piece brass band.

Jackie and Steve Breeden, in line to have their palms read at a kiosk set up between tents, took a break from the networking to see whether the turbaned palm reader would detect Mrs. Breeden's early-stage pregnancy.

"We're going to find out if this guy is worth anything," Steve Breeden said.

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About 100 yards and a world away, in the proud-to-be-raunchy infield, Lou Harris was explaining the strategy he has developed over 26 years of Preaknesses.

He and 12 companions got in line at 7:30 a.m., an hour before the gates opened and scrambled for prime real estate against the backstretch fence.

They strung together a couple of cardboard garbage cans with rope, forming a private suite in the turf. They set up a folding table and spread out fried chicken, macaroni salad and seven cases of beer.

"It's a big-time party," Harris said.

Harris said the infield, though still spirited, is not as rowdy as in previous years. In those days nudity, fights and drugs were common, he said.

"The last couple of years they have calmed down a lot," he said. His group used to bring a tarpaulin that it attached to the fence to make a sunshade. But those have been banned.

Track officials have tried to clean up the infield in recent years. This year, for example, there was no infield band. The only raised platform was used by police to survey the crowd.

And the list of prohibited items, handed out to fans as they walked through the gates, was long: liquor, drugs, tents, hibachis, barbecues, ladders, scaffolding, kegs, non-folding furniture, handcarts, wheeled carts, glass bottles.

Fans made the most of permitted canned beer -- one group loaded two 30-gallon garbage cans to the rims -- and an occasional marijuana cigarette could be seen in the infield.

A few parties down the fence, Linda, a 25-year-old who declined NTC to give her last name, said she was waiting for an adjoining party to set up a beer slide -- an area where contestants would take turns gliding on a sudsy patch of mud.

Linda said her group sneaked in a jug of rum-and-vodka "jungle juice" disguised as orange juice.

"Everybody's here to party. We've got the sun, we've got the horses and we can win money," Linda said.

Joe Welch, a crowd-control expert at Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, came to the race partly out of professional curiosity and partly out of love for the event.

It was his fourth Preakness, and he said he was impressed with the track's crowd management. Though less strict than those at Churchill Downs, the Pimlico policies seemed to work well, he said. And when he had a problem getting a seat for his sister for Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, track officials were efficient and helpful, he said.

"I hope I'll be back next year. And if I didn't like it, I wouldn't come back," he said.

Among those working the state tent was Michael Angelos, a top official of the Maryland Port Administration. He said the day provides an opportunity to woo people interested in doing business in the state.

"This is business," he said.

Gary Hemrick, 21, left Rising Sun at 4 a.m. to get into line.

"I love it," he said. "It's my first Preakness, and it ain't going to be my last."

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