On Derby Day, all is calm on the Pimlico front

Patrons catch some racing before Preakness `craziness'

May 05, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Two weeks hence, the historic plant off Northern Parkway will be teeming with humanity and abuzz with activity.

When the Preakness arrives at Pimlico Race Course, excitement reigns in Maryland racing unlike at any other time of the year.

Yesterday - with the big action in Kentucky - it was business as usual at Old Hilltop, where the crowd of 8,001 warmed up for the Kentucky Derby by tackling an 11-race live card and action from 28 other tracks, most prominently Churchill Downs.

Except for the controversial Jumbotron board, the infield that is crammed with zaniness on Preakness Day was full of inertia.

There were few harbingers of the giant party that will take place on the grounds on May 18.

A Harford County group of a dozen was enjoying Derby Day with a spread of snacks on one of the wooden picnic tables on the grandstand apron that will be removed in favor of folding chairs for the Preakness.

"We don't come on Preakness Day because of all the craziness," explained spokesman Mike D'Andries of Bel Air. "This day and Belmont Day do it for us. They let us bring our own soda in today, and there are no coolers for the Preakness. They've made it very difficult."

For weekend regulars like Keith Keller of Rosedale, the chance to get a return is the attraction.

"You've got a little chance here to get your money back. Go to Camden Yards and whatever you spend, you're not going to see it anymore," Keller said. "Look, it's a beautiful day, so you can't beat it."

Keller is among the bettors who are disenchanted by the removal of the infield tote board, complaining that he has to run hundreds of yards from the left side of the grandstand apron to see the odds.

"A lot of people are upset about taking that board out," he said. "It gave you a lot more information than you get now."

He said he will probably attend the Preakness and be in the infield.

On the track, journeyman rider Mario Pino rallied from a disqualification in Friday's last race to win five times yesterday, including all three events on the grass.

Pino was aboard Mus-If, the favorite bred in Great Britain, for an easy five-length score over long shot Great Woods in the $50,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes.

Now in the care of jockey Pino's brother, Michael, after racing on the turf in Europe, Mus-If captured his third straight by running 1 minute, 36.33 seconds for a mile over the inner track.

"I was in perfect position the whole way," the rider said. "Mike told me not to get too far back, and at the three-eighths pole I asked him to pick it up. He was so full of run I took the clearest path and tipped him to the outside. My brother had him at the top of his game."

Trainer Pino said owner Shadwell Farm Inc. sent him a group of castoffs that included Mus-If. "He had some physical problems, but he's coming back to his own," Pino said. "I feel fortunate about that."

The race was named in honor of the beloved longtime trainer Henry S. Clark. "This would have made my father very happy," Tim Clark said. "He loved Pimlico."

Laurel Park was also a popular site as 6,172 customers ventured into the track to give Maryland a Derby Day attendance of 14,173 at its two largest venues.

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