Everything is different. If 2020 had a theme – in racing, the country, the world, life in general – that would be it. Going to the grocery store requires a face mask and hand sanitizer. School parking lots became drive-through virus-testing facilities. The NBA played its playoff games at Disney World. The World Series followed a 60-game baseball season.
And the Preakness Stakes, the region’s most significant race, moved to October and was the last (instead of the second) leg of the Triple Crown. Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course was closed to spectators, which meant no raucous infield, no boxholders in fancy hats, no traffic jams and an end to plenty of normal activities surrounding the great race – which dates to 1873.
The race went on, and was one of the best, but for many 2020 ended Preakness attendance streaks, canceled backyard watch parties and altered traditions. Through its social media channels, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred reached out for Preakness stories from readers. Led by writer Sara Gordon, we found three of the best. Here’s hoping we see them – and everyone else – at the Preakness in 2021.
Curtis Hine – Baltimore, Md.
Fan and Thoroughbred owner. First Preakness: Snow Chief (1986). Saw every Preakness through 2008 (except 1989) and plenty since then.
“I grew up in Catonsville and my first exposure to horse racing was I’d go with my mother and grandmother to Timonium. My mom had an uncle who used to run horses at some of the half-mile tracks, and she would live out there and walk hots. Growing up, I had very little exposure to horses, but would go to Timonium and have a lot of fun. Then in high school I would go with my dad a couple times to Pimlico and Laurel and started in college going to the Preakness. I went to college in Virginia [James Madison] and would haul as many fraternity brothers who could fit in a car, and we’d all road-trip up to my parents’ house. My poor parents put us all up and we would go every May. I did not see many horses during that time, it was mostly the infield experience.
“The one I missed . . . I had just graduated college and had gone to live in the Outer Banks and watched Sunday Silence and Easy Goer from a small TV in the restaurant where I was working. That was just incredibly exciting. Then I didn’t really miss any after coming back and it was mostly just going in the infield with friends from college and then, around the time I turned 30, I actually moved to New York City and I had some co-workers who were into horse racing and we went to Belmont Park and I fell back in love with it.
“When I moved back home in 2001, I met a gentleman who became a very dear friend Jim Ferguson. Jim had a party and I was walking through his house and up on his study he had a couple of winner’s circle pictures and I remember grabbing one and running out and saying, ‘You own racehorses?’ And we struck up a really good friendship. He was looking to get a little better involved and he and I decided we would go to the 2-year-old sale and buy some racehorses. I want to say this was back in 2005 and we had a good friend who at the time, she had the funds to kind of jump in and she just saw my enthusiasm for it so the three of us – Jim, Jean Thomas and I – had a few racehorses. I did not have a financial interest in it, but Jim and Jean were the brawn and we had a couple racehorses. We didn’t really have any great success.
“As owners, we were in it just for fun, we were not any kind of big time, but we all went to the Preakness and we were like ‘OK, we obviously are not going to do the infield.’ We started off when they did Top of the Stretch and it was clearly the most memorable experience I ever had at the Preakness, watching the horses come around the far turn and watching [2005 winner] Afleet Alex go to his knees, like literally in front of us. You could practically reach out and touch the horses. We learned after the first year that you wanted to be in the very top row because then you could get a view of the backstretch and you could also see all of the insanity in the infield. That first year we did the top of the stretch, for all of the route races on the dirt, they would back up the starting gate right after the race went off, right in front of the TVs. I was getting really frustrated, so I sent an email. I remember asking [the Maryland Jockey Club’s] Phoebe Hayes and literally sending her an email and she got it fixed immediately. And she was like, “Oh, of course.” And I was a nobody. We had so much fun and then we graduated to Turfside Terrace.
“I’ve been with my husband since 2003, and it was our second date and my sister bought us tickets to the Preakness and that’s where we saw Funny Cide. It was in the rain, it was like 50 degrees, it was freezing cold and misty and that’s when I knew somebody liked me because he would stand there. We were in the clubhouse seats but out on the apron and it was just rainy and cold and the viewing wasn’t that great, but I was just thrilled that I could have these great seats, and now he’s kind of hooked on horse racing too.
“I still kind of curse myself for missing the Rachel Alexandra race [in 2009]. At least I saw Afleet Alex in front of me, but how did I miss Sunday Silence and Rachel? Very frustrating. And I missed American Pharoah because I had a newborn. Children get in the way of having disposable income, easily disposable income. But the great thing is we live in Bolton Hill and for us to always go is a family tradition. We’d always assemble on the Friday with my parents; we’d like to go on Black-Eyed Susan Day because it’s half the crowd but just as much fun and food and great racing, and it’s such an easy trek from Bolton Hill to Pimlico. So it was really frustrating to watch [the 2020] races because it was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and you’re just like ‘Ugh.’
“I had Swiss Skydiver in my picks and of course I threw her out because she came in second to Art Collector earlier in the year. I had her, but then I didn’t. Watching it, I was thrilled, I was so excited to see a filly win. Even though I didn’t win any money. It’s not about winning, it’s about watching just a really thrilling race and watching her eyeball-to-eyeball with him brings back Rags to Riches and Curlin in the Belmont and Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, just so much fun. And being at Pimlico, you’re right on top of the racing and I know I’m really excited they’re going to be rebuilding Pimlico but it will always be my favorite racetrack, since I was a little kid going there. It still just has that feeling and it’s really just exciting and fun and super friendly and welcoming. It doesn’t matter who you are or what level you are, it’s always a good time.”
Jack Sadler – Aiken, S.C.
Marylander and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ vice president of operations. Bee Bee Bee (1972) was his first Preakness. He hasn’t missed many since.
“I grew up on Joppa Road, in Ruxton, and I went to school at St. Paul’s and when I went to Washington and Lee [in Lexington, Va.], between my freshman and sophomore year I got a job as a hotwalker at Sagamore Farm. Frank Alexander was the farm manager. So the next year, I went back to try and get a job and Frank had left, but by the grace of God he was there for some reason, and told me if I didn’t get a job to give him a call. I got home, the phone rang five minutes later and he said he’d pick me up at the end of my driveway and take me to Delaware Park every morning. We figured out at the end of the summer I made 70 cents every hour and he said I was grossly overpaid.
“In 1979 he became the private trainer for Dogwood Stable, and in 1981 I ended up on the farm in Greenville, Ga., for Dogwood. So I was with Dogwood Stable, actually my relationship with Cot Campbell lasted 42 years. One of the best Preaknesses of all was 1990. Summer Squall won and I was there and [MAT editor] Lucy Acton came up to me and said, ‘Jack you just all won the Preakness, how do you feel?’ And my wife Susan said, ‘Don’t forget our marriage and the birth of our two children before you answer that question.’
“My dad had a box at Pimlico for as long as I can remember. I would always go to the Preakness and when I was in college I’d drive up Saturday morning and go. When I lived in Georgia for six years and when my wife and I moved to Aiken in 1986, we would go up. I can’t honestly say every year, but I can’t remember what years we didn’t go. Because it was a good excuse to go see family and all and my parents lived 5 miles from Pimlico, so we would always go up for that and bring the children. We’d hit Ocean Pride for our crab fix. And my dad passed away in 2008 and Pimlico let me take over the box. So I have a box at Pimlico, of course it’s a two-seat box but they put two more chairs in there for Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Day, so we’d always come up for that.
“This year is the first year I’ve missed in I don’t know how long. We had our Black-Eyed Susans. My wife looked up a recipe. The difference between living in South Carolina and living in Maryland is the importance of college football. My wife went to Georgia and our son went to Alabama, and so on Preakness Day, we were kind of going back and forth between Preakness and college football. But, of course, we saw the Preakness. Traditionally we’d always come home from Pimlico and have shrimp and crab meat crackers, and so that’s what we had for dinner here on Preakness Day.
“I thought  was one of the most exciting stretch duels since Alydar and Affirmed, and Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. I was happy to see Kenny McPeek win just because I’ve known Kenny for a long time. He trained horses for Dogwood, and whenever we see each other he always says hello, beats me to it. So I was very happy to see those connections win it.
“My family has had a box at Timonium, probably since the 1930s. My grandfather had it and that’s how I got interested in racing. One of the most amazing races I’ve ever seen was, I was sitting in the box at Timonium, this 2-year-old race going a half-mile, and a horse was last going into the turn and he circled the field and won. Bee Bee Bee won at Timonium and won the Preakness the next year .
“I grew up thinking the Preakness was a more important race than the Kentucky Derby. I guess, with my job and all now, the Derby probably carries a little more weight, but I always thought the Preakness was more important. Winning with Summer Squall was just so special. Cot Campbell told everybody at the barn, I was the assistant trainer at the time, if we ever have a horse run in the Kentucky Derby he wanted the people in Aiken to have the opportunity to experience it. Summer Squall was going to the Kentucky Derby and we had 30 horses here. I said, ‘Look, I’ll stay here if I can go to Baltimore for the Preakness.’ And so I did stay here for the Derby [where Summer Squall finished second], but got to go to Baltimore for the Preakness. It was Dogwood’s first Triple Crown race win. Summer Squall was always a special horse to me because when he was a yearling and a 2-year-old, I spent a lot of time at the end of the shank with Summer Squall and I’ve always thought he was one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever been around.
“Mr. Campbell announced his retirement in 2011. He and Aron Wellman got together and Eclipse was given access to all the Dogwood partners and clients, but part of the deal was he had to take me also. So I’ve been with Eclipse for about six years now. We won the  Black-Eyed Susan with Point of Honor. And I’m hoping we have a horse for the Preakness next year.”
Sandra Hess – Laurel, Md.
Avid fan, spent her life going to the Preakness with her mother Irene Florence Hess. Irene went to 75 consecutive Preaknesses, before passing away this summer at age 96. Sandra went to most of them with her, as a family tradition.
“She went to 75 Preaknesses and never missed one in all those years. My mother was Easy Goer and I was Sunday Silence [in 1989]. My mother picked Easy Goer when we were just watching him in the Kentucky Derby and I said ‘Oh, I like Sunday Silence,’ and she looked at me. I don’t know a whole lot about horses. Anyways, she said, ‘Oh, you’re not gonna win this, you’re not gonna win this,’ and I said ‘Oh, yes I am Mom. That beautiful black horse is going to beat yours.’ And that was the closest race, you know nose to nose. I did win, which everybody knows.
“I was a young girl when [1953 Preak-ness winner] Native Dancer ran, because I was born in ’44. He wasn’t the nicest horse, he would really snap at people, but I loved him. There’s something about him, if you looked at his eyes, and looked at his face, there was a determination in that horse. And my mother and my father both looked at that horse, and my dad said, “Go for Native Dancer in the Preakness.” Of course I couldn’t bet, so my mother did. She won a $1,000. And that’s what paid for my brother’s braces. They won $1,000, my mother couldn’t even close her purse. She came in the house and just threw it down and she says, “Can you believe this?”
I kept watching the races. And then I started going. We had two rows at the Preakness, the same rows we’ve had since the 1960s, and we never missed. Even to watch Secretariat, oh my god, it was unreal. We loved the Big Red. I didn’t really call him Secretariat, I called him Red, because that’s what he was. He was a big, red horse. And of course he won. I always loved Secretariat, but Native Dancer was something very special in my mother’s heart, my father’s heart.
“My dad passed away in ’89, but we still kept going. My mother and I would bicker about different horses and it’s funny, I didn’t bet the same horses she did. Sometimes she won and sometimes I won.
“We’re all from Maryland. Born in Baltimore City, not far from Pimlico. We only went once a year, well I did, my mother couldn’t go every day once we were all born. Even after she had neck surgery, she still went to the Preakness. She was not missing her Preakness and that is no joke. This is the first year I couldn’t go, well because we couldn’t, and our seats are gone. It was just like a family thing. She was my mother, but she was also my best friend. And we would just sit and talk about horses.
“When we had a chance to go to Sagamore Farm, she was so excited. My mother all these years, I used to ride, but my mother had never touched a horse. Katelyn [Lamp] was riding and she was standing there, and I took mom over and I said, ‘Mom, I want you to feel the horse. Feel how nice and soft and around the muzzle.’ She was so excited. She was in her 90s now. Of course she realized now how really big they were. You see them down below and you know they’re big, but you don’t realize how big and how strong. When she touched him, the look on her face was a look I’ll never forget. The expression was like, ‘Oh my god, am I really touching this? This is a real-life horse.’
“Her first Preakness was 76 years ago now. Seventy-six years ago. She just loved going to the races. She went every day for over 15 years, until the accident happened with her neck, and then she had to stop. But she kept up a little bit with it. When Preakness came, forget it, she was going. It didn’t matter what, she was going to the Preakness.
“It became a family thing after that. Her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, we all came. And it was a wonderful thing because it was something we all shared and it was fun.
“Swiss Skydiver, I was going to bet her if I was there. And then I was going to box Authentic and Skydiver. I was for the filly, are you kidding? I was for the filly. It’s about time, after Rachel Alexandra.
“I was at last year’s Preakness and I won. And the year before that I won. They all said, ‘What did you bet on?’ and I said, ‘I liked the name.’ I liked the name. There was something about the name I liked and I know it wasn’t the best, but sometimes you look at the horse and I mean, they’re all gorgeous, they’re beautiful, they’re the cream of the crop, but sometimes that’s how I used to bet.
“I live in Laurel now, because when I worked at [the National Institute of Health] I couldn’t travel back and forth from Randallstown. But it didn’t matter, I’d still pick my mother up every Preakness and we’d go down."