Friday marked the 10th anniversary of an incident that Lee Chang Ferrell would just as soon forget. On Preakness Day 1999, during the seventh race, a drunken spectator scaled the infield fence at Pimlico Race Course, barged onto the track, raised his fists and took a swipe at a horse as the field of eight barreled down the stretch.
Ferrell was the culprit; favored Artax was his target. The punch never landed. Somehow, Ferrell escaped getting trampled. Nearly 100,000 fans watched in horror as jockeys swerved around the man poised defiantly, like a boxer, in the middle of the track. The veering caused Artax to bump another horse and wrench an ankle.
Arrested and hustled off to jail, Ferrell was given a suspended three-year prison sentence and ordered to undergo psychiatric testing. He was also banned from setting foot at Pimlico again.
Mindful of what might have been, track officials bolstered security at the Preakness the following year.
To this day, his lawyer said, Ferrell, 33, cannot recall the episode. Both Ferrell and his parents, all of Bel Air, declined to speak to a Baltimore Sun reporter.
"This event still brings forth painful memories," attorney Frederic Heyman said. "The family is trying to move forward."
Ferrell, who had an earlier alcohol-related driving offense, was incarcerated on another DWI charge after his Preakness arrest, his lawyer said.
"But Lee is now committed to sobriety and supporting his kids," Heyman said. "He is gainfully employed [in Harford County] and has become a model citizen."
Ferrell, who is not married, has two school-age children.
"His goal is to be a good father and a good son," Heyman said. "On Mother's Day, he sent his parents a letter thanking them for supporting him through all of this. He has grown up; the light bulb has come on."
And what of Artax, the thoroughbred Ferrell tried to deck? The horse recovered to win the prestigious Breeders' Cup Sprint and earned $1.6 million before retiring as a 4-year-old with torn leg ligaments.
Artax stands at stud at Diamond G Ranch in Edmond, Okla. His offspring have totaled more than $11 million in winnings.