Out of the starting gate

Preakness: A parade and other weekend events begin the countdown to the horse race.

May 12, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

With a week to go until post time, Baltimore began the countdown to the 127th Preakness Stakes yesterday with a parade streaming through downtown and hot-air balloons hovering in the sky.

The horse race itself seemed hardly to matter, except as it offered a grand backdrop to a sun-soaked day of activities that included 5K and 10K races and bands at Rash Field at the Inner Harbor.

"I'm a parade fan, just a little bit of a racing fan," said Carolyn Mitchell of Severn, one of hundreds who lined Pratt Street for a glimpse of marching bands, step groups and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the Preakness Parade's grand marshal.

The storied Preakness, the second jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown series, is scheduled to run Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. But for the crowds yesterday, picking a horse could wait.

There was plenty to do in the meantime as this year's Preakness celebration continued its weeklong run.

Events are scheduled each day this week, including a waitress obstacle course tomorrow, children's field races Tuesday and a frog jump Wednesday. Preakness Celebration Inc., which organizes the pre-race festivities, has expanded this year's offerings, for the first time centering most of the events at the Inner Harbor.

There were some troubles getting out of the gate. Planned hot-air balloon flights were scratched at dawn yesterday, as well as Friday night, when winds threatened to push the balloons into airspace controlled by Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But organizers had alternatives. Using tethers, balloon pilots fired up their flying machines early yesterday, filling the sky above Druid Hill Park with the colorful globes. Friday night's event at Rash Field also included a performance by O'Malley's March, featuring Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"There's so much, it's kind of like, `What horse race?'" said Kay Moore, crew chief with the hot-air balloon Amanecer -- Spanish for dawn or daybreak -- from San Marcos, Texas.

Not that everyone had forgotten the two-minute drama that punctuates Preakness week.

"I'm planning to go to the Preakness," said Miguel Cabrera, 26, of Towson, who completed the Preakness 5K run in 20 minutes, 41 seconds and who expected to join the infield crowd at Saturday's race.

His horse? "I don't have a favorite one. Not yet. But the horse, the one in Kentucky, it looks pretty good," he said.

Along the parade route, Fran Cornitcher of Randallstown also said she had her eye on the 3-year-old War Emblem, who shot ahead of the competition at the Kentucky Derby and won in 2:01.13, without trailing.

"I'm not really a gambling-type person," Cornitcher quickly added. She never has been to the Preakness, and she was downtown yesterday with her son, Jeremey, 11, strictly to watch the parade.

But Cornitcher said she is hoping to have a seat at next year's race, along with a parking pass and a lucky parimutuel ticket. "I hope I win," she said.

Mildred Ann Suddeth of Winchester, Va., was in Baltimore yesterday to watch her son, Tim, perform with the Marching Ravens band in the Preakness Parade. Suddeth has an equine connection -- she sells classified ads for The Chronicle of the Horse, a Virginia-based sporting horse magazine. She did not have a Preakness pick, but she said she would be watching.

"The Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup," Suddeth said. "Those are the ones that draw everyone's attention."

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