During Preakness Stakes week this year, 2,500 people took a backstretch tour at Old Hilltop. More than a hundred of those were from Arlington Middle Elementary School, a Baltimore City public school located within walking distance of Pimlico Race Course.
“This is our 3rd year with the school but our first having the entire school. These kids walk over each year from school to the track,” said Fran Burns, the lead coordinator of the Sunrise Tours at Pimlico. She structures the tours for the school kids so that they can get up close and personal with the racehorses, an opportunity similar to those memories that many of us cite as the turning point in our love for horses.
The Arlington Elementary School group walked into Pimlico’s valet parking lot and formed orderly groups, to be led by one of Burns’ invaluable volunteer tour guides. Each group visited with a farrier, learned all of outrider Tim Tullock and pony Junior’s secrets (such as the crowd-pleaser ‘horses can’t vomit!’), and met the Budweiser Clydesdales. They watched jockey Darius Thorpe demonstrate his skills on an Equicizer, and visited the winner’s circle. “These kids have had no exposure to horses. Put yourself in their shoes. These horses are so large to them and they are so surprised the animals are so kind,” said Burns. There’s no substitute for meeting a horse in person.
For the kids, it’s not just a morning away from school. It’s a new experience with something that’s in their backyard. It’s a chance for the thoroughbred industry in Maryland to enrich a few more lives. “Some of these kids could be future fans, owners, trainers,breeders, jockeys, grooms, hot walkers, racing officials, etc. Unless we step up and educate them at an early age we may not have a sport when they are grown up.“