Kilpatric squinted in the sun as he surveyed the track from the Grandstand apron, just steps from the track. Most of the rows of folding chairs were still empty. But two couples, including one woman in a dress and heels, settled in and began organizing the food they'd brought in.
"I've never been to a Preakness in my life," said Kilpatric, an unemployed cook who said he used to clean out horse stalls while growing up in exchange for riding lessons. "I used to bet the ponies like crazy, but I quit in the '90s. I come to watch the horses. I love horses."
He said he jumped at the chance to come to the Preakness for free.
"For Maryland, this is like getting the Super Bowl," he said. "This is the Super Bowl for Maryland."
Fellow usher Mike Long led a group of the volunteers, dressed in green shirts, along the rows of folding chairs in the section, in front of the grandstand and said, "This is the place to be." When he was first asked to volunteer he said, "A horse race? Are you kidding me," he said. That was 14 years ago and he's been back as a volunteer usher every year.
He said the folks who sit in the seats in front of the grandstand, seemingly in reaching distance to the track, pay $175 a ticket and know how to have a good time. By race time, he said, the neat rows are haphazardly arranged and "the party starts."
When the gates opened at 8 a.m., the first of the spectators filed in through security checks, along with ushers and food service workers. Inside, vendors had "Get your Preak On" t-shirts arranged on tables and bartenders set up their stands with $8 Black Eyed Susans, and Orange Crushes, the drink specials of the day.
-- Lorraine Mirabella
Come early, leave early Updated 9:30 a.m. |
The gates to Pimlico have barely opened and where do you find your city councilman?
Sitting at a table, of course, in the race track concourse, poring over a racing form and counting out money for bets.
That's what Robert W. Curran has been doing for years. He wakes up, drives to Pimlico, parks in his secret spot in the neighborhood and beats the race track crush. "The only Preakness I've missed was Secretariat," he said, wearing a Domino Sugar baseball cap and a yellow racing shirt.
His fondest Preakness moment was 1980 when he won an exacta with Codex beating out the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. There was a challenge, and Curran had to sweat it out in the hot infield for 20 minutes before the ruling came back in his favor. He collected more than a $1,000 on his bet.
Of course, that was in his younger years, when the infield was better known for beer and fun than beer and debauchery. After 20 years of that, he retired to the grandstand. Now, he doesn't even stay for the races.
"I'll be out of here by 10," he said, smiling.
Is that 10 p.m.?
The councilman meant 10 a.m.
He comes, he handicaps, he bets on all the races and he leaves. At home, he's got friends, food and the Preakness on TV.
His pick in today's feature race? First Dude.
First Dude is not named after Maryland's First Dude, Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, whose wife is Curan's niece. Rather, this First Dude is named for Todd Palin, the husband of Sarah Palin, definitely not a Democrat.
-- Peter Hermann