Why We Love This Game — Written by Anne Frederick
Now, I’m Sure
Here it comes.
Maryland has the humidity to make even a bald man’s hair curl. So when May weather is suddenly cooler and more pleasant, look over your shoulder for the storm clouds.
I am social media, department of 1, at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. That means I am also social media, department of 1, for Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine and Jim McKay Maryland Million Day. Which is not to say I don’t have great help if I ask for it – Dan himself has come to my aid when called. Social media is all about bringing the live experience to the folks who aren’t present, which means you have to be everywhere, simultaneously. But here in Maryland I have comfortable shoes, a long stride, and plenty of friends.
Preakness weekend is the best time to be a social media user of any kind. Pimlico Race Course is what it is, and people flock to it for their own reasons, but during Preakness the track is packed with people who are happy to be along for the ride. That means plenty of people and horses to tweet about.
This was my third Preakness – I’m a newbie.I have celebrated every Kentucky Derby since I was born with my family in Kentucky. Now I celebrate in Maryland, and lure people to watch it with me with a little southern hospitality (aka, bourbon and butter). I worked at Equibase right out of college, learned the lingo, unsure about a career in horse racing. Now I’m sure. I wasn’t sure about the horse industry in Maryland. Now I’m sure.
The heat early in the day Saturday was almost unbearable. I was a hot, sticky, undignified mess, trying to tweet with an unholy glare on my phone and iPad screen. Stuff dreams are made of, right? Security stopped me several times, despite my press pass. That’s alright, I made do. A tough day, full of sunburns and thirst and a dire need to know what I might be missing elsewhere. An endless day of wandering back and forth. The department did its best.
Without a winner’s circle credential, my best hope for the big race was down by the gap. I marked a spot on the rail with duct tape for my photographer, Anne Litz, and I. We watched the field for the Dixie head to the paddock. We finally caught a nice cool breeze on our necks and felt a little better. A track maintenance worker let us sit on his tailgate while we waited for the horses to come back. The starting gate was just in front of us, a great spot to stand.
Clouds over the sun are a relief. The field for the Dixie was loading, but a horse reared in the gate, and is scratched. They’re off. I got a nice video. We joke about catching the next lightning strike in a photo of the Preakness start and winning an Eclipse Award. After, fans somehow make it to the rail and try to take photos with Baffert’s lead pony. Smokey is not having it, dancing circles around his handler. “Don’t you know I’m living in stall 40, peasants?”
People are streaming out of the infield. Guys, where are you going? The ropes are up, and a few lucky infielders get photos of the Preakness horses. I don’t care if they know who they’re photographing, I’m just glad they are. They think the horses are beautiful, unique, untouchable. There goes Baffert and Bode. Why is the sky so dark?
So many people are being rushed out of the infield on stretchers. The tunnel is a mob and we have to shout over it, deciding where to stand for the Preakness.We stay where we are, between the gap and the old grandstand, and leave the photographers who have poached our prime duct tape real estate alone. We joke with the track veterinarian’s driver that we might need to hide in his car if it starts raining. The wind. The color of the sky. The raindrops. Something wicked. 30 minutes to post time. Here it comes.
25 minutes, the wind.
20 minutes, the rain.
Sheets of it blowing through from the direction of the stakes barn and we hear panic in the tunnel below. There’s a security guard running toward us, moving us to the grandstand. The track veterinarian vehicle is parked in our path, they wave us into the car. We’re safe, aren’t we?
We’re in the carwash from hell. The vet’s radio is crackling with the panicked voices of outriders, maintenance workers, track officials. The horses are out of the paddock and on the track. Are you kidding me? In this? Someone on the radio calls for police backup. People on the backside of the infield are panicking, jumping barriers and running across the track to try to get to the parking lot. There are horses on the track. There are people on the track. 10 minutes to post.
We barely see the horses go by to the gate from inside the car. 5 minutes. “We are going ahead as planned at 6:21,” bellows a voice over the radio. The car is shuddering in the wind, and I look at Anne. We have to do it.
The lead outrider comes through the starting gate. The track veterinarian puts up his hood and is out of the car in case they need him while loading. We follow. We are soaked immediately. We are laughing like maniacs.
We stand at the gap while the horses are loading. My phone screen is wet, overreacting to the millions of little raindrop fingertips, and I barely get the video recording in time. Oh, but I get a video of them coming out of that gate. It’s my job.
The crowd, most of which perservered through the bitter downpour, roars. It echoes off the old grandstand roof and right through our bones. People do still love this game. My blood is up, the Preakness is running. We stand on our toes and wait for them to come back around, our hair standing on end.
Here they come, slingshotting around the final turn. There’s rain in my eyes, in my everything – who’s in front? That’s the one horse. I am standing in a thunderstoom watching the Preakness Stakes. I am going to get so many likes on this video. I am so not going to Belmont this year. I am so happy.
We squint to watch the finish on the big screen, but we know it by the roar of the crowd. Settle, storm, your moment is over. It settles. American Pharoah. We cheer. We are soaked, exhausted, thrilled.
10 seconds in a thunderstorm watching the Preakness is the thrill of a lifetime. How is that possible? We watched them break out of the gate, we watched American Pharoah come out of the turn into the stretch, and nothing else. 10 seconds that made our heart race. Adrenaline is a beautiful thing. It has been 4 hours since post time, and I am still energized while I write this. My pizza is cold. Now I’m sure. This is why we love this game.
We thank Anne for sharing her story on DanonymousRacing.com. You can follow her on Twitter @annela1rd.
If you have a great racing-related story, we want to hear it! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in “Why We Love This Game” on DanonymousRacing.com.