Pegram deserves a break after indeed finding Pimlico

May 14, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Mike Pegram arrived in town yesterday, which means a decision is at hand for local racing fans and hidebound Charm City loyalists.

Do you forgive Pegram, owner of Real Quiet, for insulting Baltimore and the Preakness Stakes after his horse won the Kentucky Derby?

Or do you not forget?

The advice here is to lighten up, chill out, forgive and whatever.

"I meant no disrespect to Baltimore whatsoever," Pegram said yesterday at Pimlico. "Please accept an apology."

Owner of 22 McDonald's franchises in the state of Washington, Pegram, 46, is a life-of-the-party guy with a bleacher-seat mentality -- more Memorial Stadium than Camden Yards, a perfect fit for Baltimore.

And he certainly didn't intend for what he said to sound derisive.

On the other hand, he said what he said and now he has to live with it, right?

Here's an idea: If you run into him in the next few days around town -- check the watering holes -- you might gently remind him, just in case he wasn't sure, that the Preakness is, in fact, run in Baltimore.

You know, that little town of a million or so people in between Washington and Philadelphia.

A good-sized dot on just about any map.

Starts with a B.

Apparently, according to what

Pegram said after the Derby, he wasn't sure.

Asked on the victory stand at Churchill Downs -- on national television, no less -- if he intended to take Real Quiet "on to the Preakness in Baltimore," he paused, smiled and said, "Where's that?"

Actually, that could serve as the city's next slogan if John Waters were running the chamber of commerce.

Instead of "Baltimore: The City That Reads," it would be "Baltimore: Where's That?"

(Eleven games out in the loss column as of today, that's where.)

The comment made it sound as if Pegram couldn't be bothered with the little Triple Crown race run here in front of, oh, 90,000 people.

That's quite a slight coming from a guy raised in Princeton, Ind., which isn't exactly the Left Bank.

Again, you can take it personally and get puffed up with indignity if you want.

But maybe you should save your indignity for a more suitable topic, such as Davey Johnson's unemployment.

Just give Pegram a break, OK?

He had other things on his mind up there on the victory stand at Churchill.

"Like, who was icing the beer," he said yesterday.

He didn't mean for his "where's that?" comment to sound as bad as it did.

"To be honest," he said, "I was just avoiding the question [about going to the Preakness]. It was too quick after the race. I didn't want to go committing right there. It's when you start woofing that bad things happen. And you never know how a horse is going to come out of a race. Decisions like that are [trainer Bob] Baffert's, anyway, not mine.

"And besides, after winning the Derby, I didn't even want to think about any other race."

You have to understand. He was raised in Southern Indiana, near Kentucky, skipping classes at Indiana University to bet at Churchill Downs and genuflect at the idea of winning the Derby.

Real Quiet's victory gave him such a complete sense of satisfaction that, when the issue of the Preakness came up, he couldn't help smiling a goofy, dreamy smile and saying, "Where's that?"

For the record, he does know where Baltimore is. He ran Isitingood in the Pimlico Special last year.

"Got beat," he said. "I'm batting an o-fer so far here."

Now he is back as the Derby winner and the toast of racing. And we do mean toast. He celebrated his Derby victory long and hard with a few friends that night, sitting on the trunk of his car in the parking lot of his hotel until well after 2 a.m.

"We had a case of beer," he said. "We stayed out until they delivered the morning papers. I went inside [the lobby] and bought two. You'd think you'd get a free paper after winning the Kentucky Derby."

He is a self-made success who opened his first McDonald's franchise in 1975 and started buying horses after being introduced to Baffert, who was then training quarterhorses. Pegram's money enabled Baffert to switch to thoroughbreds and later become a star.

As steeped as Pegram is in racing's traditions and lore, he is hardly your traditional, genteel owner. He is known for giving his horses suggestive names such as Zippersup, Letthebiggatorout and Isitingood. He loves a crowd, a party and bawdy jokes.

Fifty friends and family members were with him at Churchill Downs to celebrate Real Quiet's victory; Pegram held up the taking of the win picture until they all reached the winner's circle.

"It has to be the biggest win picture ever," he said.

Later, when the president of Churchill Downs, Tom Meeker, grabbed Pegram to introduce him to the governor of Kentucky, Pegram stopped and said, with all due respect, that he really needed to make a pit stop first.

Baltimore, you have to do more than just forgive this man.

You have to reserve at least some of your rooting interest for him.

"I've already apologized to Churchill Downs for delaying the [taking of] the [Derby] win picture until all my friends got there," he said. "And I've apologized to ABC. I can apologize to Baltimore, too."

Accepted?

You bet.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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