Oh, the Preakness Stakes. The middle jewel of the Triple Crown is always one of the Sport of Kings' biggest parties, and everyone from journalists to fans and horsemen get into the revelry on the biggest day of horse racing on Maryland’s calendar. It’s so beloved by the racing crowd that it seems that no matter where you turn at the track you run into a friendly face.
So it was fitting that when I arrived at Pimlico on Saturday morning the first person that I ran into is my awesome friend Claire Novak; not only is she an amazingly talented reporter, she’s also extremely fashionable. I was immediately in love with her dress and vintage headpiece, so much so that I made her stop working so I could snap a photo of her.
After I’d pestered Claire, I made my way to the press box to drop off my equipment and then boogied right back downstairs to take in the Preakness scene. Claire wasn’t the only one to bring her A-game to Pimlico on Saturday; people were dressed to impress, and I had a great time scoping out everyone’s individual style.
I’ve also seen this guy every year since I’ve started coming to the Preakness, and every year he rocks this awesome lid:
How can you not love it? Even the lawn jockeys were getting into the Preakness spirit!
That’s a lovely tiara.
Of course, having a few cocktails can certainly add to the festive atmosphere; fortunately, the Preakness is prepared! For only $9, fans could get a (really, really delicious) Black-Eyed Susan in a commemorative glass. That’s a pretty good deal – and there were plenty of cocktails for the asking for thirsty racing fans.
After taking in the scene around the track, I decided to take the plunge and head into the Preakness Infield. While the Infield has a certain amount of notoriety to it (Google “Running of the urinals” if you’re bored) in recent years the Infield has become a destination for all sorts of people; yes, there are definitely the partiers, but there are also music aficionados, foodies, racing fans, fashionistas and celebrities galore. From the trackside suite to Nas and Lorde concerts, there’s a little something for everyone in the infield. You can understand why people are so excited to be there!
I ran into this group of guys getting their Preak on. Love the Hawaiian shirts!
And they were just the start of all of the people I saw having a blast in the Infield. And why not? It’s a ton of fun.
Frankly, I was just jealous of the guy below; I, too, wanted a Fred Flintstone-sized drumstick and a bottomless mug of beer! Sadly, it was not to be my fate, but he seemed to be having a ton of fun and that’s what counts.
I also spotted these Marines, who were letting people pose on their Humvee. Naturally, I was completely powerless to resist.
After that, I met up with my friend Alicia Wincze-Hughes so we could go check out the Nas concert. Oh, the things I have to do for work – it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! (I kid. I know exactly how lucky I am.)
Alicia, as always, looked as fantastic as she writes (which is to say, she looked amazing) and I had to get a photo of her at the show:
We were definitely not the only people stoked to be there; Nas has a huge following, and there were fans lined up from the middle of the Infield to the barriers to the stage to get the best vantage point for the show.
And the most popular man at the concert (well, before Nas took the stage, that is) was this beer vendor:
Oh yeah, he made some cash in that crowd!
When Nas came on the stage, the crowd went nuts – it was a hugely electric atmosphere, Nas definitely played up to the audience’s frenetic energy.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for too long; I had one more stop to make in the Infield, after all: the trackside viewing area. I think this is where I would hang out if I were spending a non-working day at the Preakness. It has everything: delicious food, cocktails galore, hats and sundresses and bowties and seersucker, plus an amazing view of the turf course. It’s basically heaven.
Seriously, the view of the grass course is unparalleled. Thoroughbreds running on the lawn thunder just feet away from spectators as the horses make their furious drives to the finish line.
At that point, I realized that I needed to boogie back to the main track – the Preakness was coming up, and I wanted to be there for every second of it. As I headed out of the Infield and toward the press box, I ran into these guys:
Looks like they were having a very profitable afternoon! That’s one more reason to love horse racing: what other sport can you think of where you can leave the event with more money than when you came?
I arrived just in time for the Sir Barton Stakes, so I hurried over to my assigned spot to get shots of the race. For some reason, when the horses were coming down the stretch for the first time I decided to focus on the horse leading the pack instead of the entire field. I’m so glad that I did, because as I depressed the shutter on my camera the leading horse, He’s Achance, decided to just jump over an invisible obstacle. It was totally bizarre, but somehow I managed to capture the moment:
This guy’s reaction pretty much mirrored my own:
I’ll tell you what: if He’s Achance ever wants a second career as a show jumper, his owners are more than welcome to contact me. That was awesome. (Also, he’s got great form, especially considering the fact that he was moving at approximately 35 miles per hour when he did this.)
After that bout of excitement, I decided to make my way up to the roof to see what was happening with the Lorde concert, which was in full blast in the Infield. When I got up to my vantage point, I was floored by how packed the main stage of the Infield had become.
And when I zoomed in really far, I even managed to get a shot of Lorde herself. Not too shabby for my little Nikon!
But the Infield wasn’t the only place that was packed – check out how many people were crowed in the Grandstand and on the apron to see the races:
While I was on the roof, I ran into Molly Jo Rosen, another amazing friend of mine. Apparently, she and track announcer Larry Collmus have an annual Preakness tradition of taking a selfie, and they graciously allowed me to partake in this year’s edition.
Finally, it was time for the main event: the Preakness Stakes. The Preakness has its own unique atmosphere due to the wild anticipation of whether this will finally be the year to yield that elusive beast, the Triple Crown winner. As I hurried over to the barn to watch this year’s contenders, my heart was in my throat: I’ve been chasing this game my whole life, and I’ve been praying to see a Triple Crown winner ever since I could remember. The last winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Affirmed, was retired before I was born, so, aside from watching old clips on YouTube, I’ve never seen a Triple Crown before. Although I was very confident in California Chrome’s chances, this is still horse racing and anything can happen.
Fortunately, as soon as I arrived at the Pimlico Stakes Barn where the Preakness contenders are stabled, I was immediately and charmingly distracted by the pony horse that would escort California Chrome to the saddling paddock. This guy was all decked out in his California Chrome purple and green – from his face right down to his tail! I was instantly in love.
After I saw that, my nerves settled down. Well, a little. And with that, the horses emerged out of their barns to make their way to the Preakness Stakes.
As the horses circled in the paddock waiting for the race of their lives, the jockeys made their way from their second-story room to connect with their horses and get final instructions from trainers and owners. California Chrome’s rider Victor Espinoza definitely had his game face on as he made his way to his team.
Meanwhile, from what I could see, California Chrome was as calm as a cucumber on the turf course getting saddled, accepting pats on the neck and head from his handlers.
Then it was time for the post parade. At this point, my heart was in my throat again: I was a nervous wreck. But the best distraction for me is work, and I was lucky enough to have some wonderful horses to take photos of right in front of me as “Maryland My Maryland” was sung by the crowd.
And finally, it was time for the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes. As fans roared their approval, the 10 contenders in the second jewel of the Triple Crown surged out of the starting gate and down the stretch for the first time with Pablo Del Monte leading the pack.
As the field rounded the turn and California Chrome made his way in front to the finish line and the history books, I had to keep my hands from shaking in excitement in order to get the shot.
The feeling of jubilation that came over me as California Chrome crossed the wire was unforgettable, and as I made my way onto the racetrack to get more pictures photographers were slapping each other on the back and yelling in glee. People were crying with happiness, people were cheering, people were hugging, everyone was smiling: it was some of the happiest chaos I had ever been involved with in my entire life.
At the center of it all was California Chrome’s rider Willie Delgado, who had his little girl with him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier pair.
Meanwhile, assistant trainer Alan Sherman was wreathed in smiles, and I loved that he stopped to shake the hand of the security guard that had accompanied them all week at Pimlico.
As jockey Victor Espinoza returned on California Chrome, he had a grin as wide as the Chesapeake Bay on his face – and his horse looked pretty pleased with himself, too!
Because I’m a racing junkie and a big Chrome fan, I decided to swing by the barn on Sunday morning to see how the champ was doing the morning after the Preakness Stakes. To my delight, he was in fine fettle. His trainer Art Sherman said that he had eaten every oat in his bucket and that he was pulling assistant trainer Alan Sherman around the barn as he stretched his legs during his morning walk. When California Chrome came out get the poultice washed off of his legs, he looked just magnificent in the early morning light.
And Chrome was clearly in a great mood: he even played a good game of “got your hat” with Alan Sherman!
As I left the Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ behind and started my journey back to New York, I reflected that we as a nation have so much be excited about in the coming three weeks when California Chrome follows me up the I-95 corridor to the Big Apple in just a few days.
Looks like the big horse himself is looking forward to it!