He is known as "Mr. Preakness," because no one can keep guests happier than Cocky Johnson during Maryland's biggest week of racing.
Whatever the needs of visiting horsemen, Johnson is there to fill them, sending for supplies from as far away as central Pennsylvania or simply giving a encouraging word to trainers, exercise riders and grooms who are away from home.
"We believe a satisfied customer is going to tell other people about us," he said. "The thing that makes me feel good is when these people come back to the stakes barn again and again."
He had some repeaters this year, most notably D. Wayne Lukas, who dominated Preakness Week activities after winning the Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch.
But Johnson had no particular problems supplying this year's contingent, because more than half the field didn't arrive until four days before the race.
That and the fact that the Pimlico Special was shifted to the Saturday before the Preakness "made accommodating people a lot easier."
The only quirk, said Johnson, was Lukas' desire to stable at the other end of the stakes barn from Stall 40, traditionally reserved for the Derby winner.
"He likes it down there in that little corner and doesn't really care about that tradition," said Johnson. "I call where he is 'Lukasville.' "
Johnson, 60, worked his way through the ranks to become the director of stalling at Pimlico in 1981. He specializes in shippers to the stakes barn, a tricky assignment when stalls are too few or when a trainer asks for certain equipment or material that is not on the grounds.
He considers himself a fortunate man because of the nature of the horsemen.
"The thing about it is superstars in other sports -- baseball, basketball, football -- are sort of snobbish," said Johnson. "But these big guys in racing come in here, and they're not like that at all.
"They're everyday people. They don't tell you, 'You have to do this or that.' They work with you. And they're at the stalls at 4 or 5 in the morning getting dirty themselves, using a pitchfork or throwing manure.
"They don't tell the help to do anything they wouldn't do. That's the beauty of my job, seeing things like that."
Johnson can run through a national who's who of horsemen when he rattles off his favorite guests. Charlie Whittingham. Buddy Raines. Jack Van Berg. The late Laz Barrera. Lukas. Ron McAnally. Tom Bohannan. Henry Clark, a year-round resident of Pimlico.
He loves the outdoors. He loves animals. And he loves his work.
Johnson's office walls are adorned with hundreds of pictures from races won and of Johnson posing with trainers and jockeys.
"Being a stall man is very time-consuming and sometimes awfully difficult," said John Mooney, chief operations officer at Laurel and Pimlico.
"When you have limited spaces and a popular meeting in which everyone wants to be stalled at the track, it gets tough. Trainers have to rotate a lot, and Cocky's responsibility is to keep up to date on all horses on the grounds and in training."
The toughest time at Pimlico is the two-week period between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Everyone coming in has a preferred location, and several people associated with the stakes runners may require accommodations in the area.
"Cocky has to be able to recommend what tack supplies they need, what blacksmith they may use and, during big races, he has to find temporary help to ensure the stalls are clean when they get here," said Mooney.
"A lot of times, a stall man also gets involved in the transportation of horses, and he has to be familiar with the quarantine rules if the race draws a horse from another country.
"Without a doubt, Cocky does all this as well as anyone could," Mooney said.
Johnson, who attended Carver High, started going to Timonium during the summer meetings and worked under the tutelage of Mildred Saportas, a trainer known as "the queen of the halfers."
He walked hots and served as a groom for a number of local trainers, then went to Bowie Race Course as a security guard. There his career as a stall man began. He also oversaw the stabling area at Delaware Park for a time.
His memory is filled with the idiosyncrasies of past Preakness horses.
"Take Alysheba. There was a guy who knew when the photographers were around," he said. "He'd just stand there and curl up his lip and start posing whenever they came around.
"And Sunny's Halo. Nothing but a clown. He'd stand up on his hind legs and try to pull the leaves off a tree back of the stakes barn."
Johnson, whose given name is Aquilla, twice has undergone triple-bypass surgery, the last before the '92 Preakness.
But he isn't slowing down. He thrives in his job and won't tolerate funny business.
"It's very delicate working around these animals," he said. "When you get help, you just can't grab anybody. There's no room for riffraff.
"During a live meeting, I have 10 working for me, and there are more before the Preakness. We need two just to keep it cleaned up around the stakes barn.
"I want my help to understand that these trainers give the best to their horses and we're there to help them do that.
"My biggest joy comes when these trainers tell us how well they're treated here," he said. "That's what we're here for."