Man invades track, faces down horses

Thoroughbreds steered around fan from infield

May 16, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

A man from the infield walked onto the track at Pimlico yesterday three races before the Preakness, stood in front of eight thundering thoroughbreds but escaped injury when horses veered sharply and barely missed him.

No horses or jockeys in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, the seventh of 12 races, were hurt.

The man, identified by police as Lee Ferrell, ran onto the track about 2: 55 p.m. and was arrested minutes later. The 22-year-old suspect, from the 100 block of Walden Road in Bel Air, was taken into custody and transported to Sinai Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, police said.

He had not been charged as of last night pending the outcome of the evaluation, said Sgt. Scott Rowe, a police spokesman.

To reach the track from the infield, Ferrell climbed over a chain-link fence and walked across the turf course. He ducked under the inner rail of the dirt track and stepped onto the track as the horses rounded the final turn.

No one tried to stop him. No security workers were seen in the vicinity.

As the horses raced down the homestretch in front of the packed grandstand, Ferrell stood directly in Artax's path, forcing the colt's jockey, Jorge Chavez, to steer abruptly around him. As Artax passed, the man threw a wild right-handed punch at the horse. The man's fist brushed Chavez's right leg.

"I thought he was going to keep running, but he stopped," Chavez said of Ferrell, who wore a tank top and shorts. "He was waiting for my horse."

Artax was trailing Yes It's True, the eventual winner. Ferrell stood still, facing the horses. He let Yes It's True and his jockey Jerry Bailey pass along the rail. He seemed fixated on Artax.

"He was looking straight at my horse," Chavez said.

Ferrell raised both fists to shoulder level, then assumed a boxing stance. Chavez said he considered cutting to the inside or the outside, but decided to wait in case the man stepped to either side into his path.

At the last moment, Chavez jerked Artax to the inside, just missing Ferrell and his wild punch. Artax collided with Purple Passion, and other horses altered course.

Afterward, in the jockey's room, a shaken Chavez said: "This should never happen, this stuff. He could be killed. My horse could be killed or broke down. I could be paralyzed."

Joseph A. De Francis, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that, although more than 1,000 security guards staffed Pimlico on its biggest day, no guards protected that part of the track.

After the horses passed, Ferrell remained on the track, looking around in apparent bewilderment. Security workers finally approached, throwing him to the ground.

They handcuffed him, led him off the track and held him briefly at Pimlico. City police transported him to Sinai.

Asked why no guards manned that section of track, De Francis said: "In 124 years, nothing like this has ever happened. We don't assume that people are going to come here and try to kill themselves.

"If someone is completely crazy and determined to literally commit suicide, as this guy appeared determined to do by walking out on the racetrack like that in the middle of the race, then there's nothing anyone's going to be able to do to stop that."

Asked how he knew the man was trying to kill himself, De Francis said: "Obviously, if you stand out in front of a thundering group of horses running down the racetrack, then you have to have very little regard at that point in time for your life and the life of others."

"Thank God no one was hurt," De Francis said.

Security personnel typically line that part of the track during the Preakness. Immediately after the incident, the workers took their positions, about 2 1/2 hours early.

"We put them in place immediately in case there might be some other lunatic that might want to do a copycat kind of thing," De Francis said.

De Francis said his staff would review security measures and make changes if necessary.

Asked whether he might review the policy that allows fans to bring alcoholic beverages into the infield, De Francis said: "We don't want to let one lunatic ruin it for the other 50,000 people that have been coming here 124 years and having a good time."

After losing momentum, Artax finished fifth. Pimlico officials refunded all wagers on Artax. Equibase, the industry's data base, said that was about $1.4 million.

Other jockeys expressed shock and concern over the incident.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Shane Sellers, the rider of Brushed On, who finished sixth. "I saw a man standing in the middle of the track. I couldn't believe my eyes. I pulled my horse up. I didn't know what else to."

Said Pat Day, who rode runner-up The Trader's Echo: "I've never been in the middle of anything like that. Praise God everybody got around the guy, and he was left standing."

And Edgar Prado, who rode Just Call Me Carl, who finished last, asked: "Where were the policemen for this one?"

Sun staff writer Jamal Watson and contributing writer Jennifer Sullivan supplied information for this article.

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