Maryland racing thrives on attention at Preakness
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas won two stakes on the Preakness Day undercard, but all he wanted to talk about was Pimlico – the track, the people, the service, the atmosphere, the joy he gets when he travels to Maryland with a horse.
And the Hall of Famer wasn’t alone.
Beyond I’ll Have Another’s addition of the second leg of the Triple Crown to his victory in the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, the topic of conversation was the Maryland Jockey Club track in Baltimore. Pimlico, supposedly old and outdated and just hanging on, left another mark on the Triple Crown with its attention to detail, its welcoming attitude, its ability to handle a big event and?–?most importantly – its try.
“They get that stigma that maybe they’re not as fancy as Churchill or Belmont, but they work hard and do a great job,” said Lukas, who knows effort and style when he sees it. “I told the management people at Churchill to load up all the administration people they have, put them on a plane and bring them here. Just let them walk around and see what happens. It would really help us all. It’s true.”
Lukas wasn’t taking a swipe at Churchill Downs, which can obviously pull off big events (Oaks, Derby, Breeders’ Cup and so on) with regularity; he was complimenting Pimlico, a track which races just 29 days a year now, which dates to 1870 and shows it in some places, which lacks the luxury of Churchill and the expanse of Belmont.
Lukas watched his Hamazing Destiny and Skyring win back-to-back stakes on Preakness Day from a plain white plastic chair in the box seat area above the winner’s circle at Pimlico. The spot was shady on a hot day, convenient on a busy day, appreciated on any day.
“Top to bottom, whether you’re in the Preakness or any other race, all of us trainers really love it here,” Lukas said. “It’s the hospitality. They go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and not have to be concerned about anything. That seat, a simple thing like that seat, makes a difference. I had a spot to sit down and watch my horse.”
The comments, in the midst of a post-race interview in the paddock, ought to make anyone associated – ownership, management, staff, owner, trainer, breeder, jockey, mere fan –
with Maryland racing stand up a little taller.
People raved about the Maryland Jockey Club, its work, its generosity, its ability to pull off a big event.
Trainer Dale Romans opened the trunk of his courtesy car this year and found Shackleford’s Preakness paddock sign from 2011. Lukas needed a second courtesy car, and got it. Eventual winning trainer Doug O’Neill played along with the race’s promotional aspects, in large part because of the reception he got from Pimlico. Two days before the big race, Bob Baffert joked about his mood being good “win, lose or draw” when he leaves Pimlico each year.
Tom Chuckas, Carrie Everly, Georganne Hale, Mike Gathagan and anyone else with an MJC Staff badge should take a bow.
They do good work.
This year, they were rewarded by a record crowd of 121,309 for the Preakness. The attendance figure completed a turnaround from the 77,850 who passed through the gates in 2009, the first year of new rules to control fans bringing their own alcohol. Then, discussion turned to the shocking possibility of the Preakness leaving the state. Now, nothing could be further from anyone’s mind.