“Here I come to save the day!” No, it wasn’t Mighty Mouse, it was a mighty horse named Big Brown. Thanks to his jaw-dropping performance in capturing the 133rd Preakness Stakes, the industry has a new superstar… for at least the next three weeks. Big Brown toyed with his 11 competitors for the 1 3/16 miles around the Pimlico dirt oval to win by 5 1⁄4 lengths over 40-1 Macho Again who finished three-quarters of a length in front of the local favorite, 22-1 Icabad Crane.
It’s been 30 years (Affirmed in 1978) since horse racing celebrated the greatest feat in its sport… a Triple Crown winner. And boy, this sport sure could use the shot-in-the-arm. It’s about time the racing gods look down kindly on thoroughbred horse racing. Pimlico and the city of Baltimore was the beneficiary of another successful Preakness. Over 112,000 (fifth largest crowd) descended upon Old Hilltop to enjoy a great day of racing.
I was fortunate enough to have access (via Press Pass) to every square inch of the facility, from Press Box to smack-dab in the center of the infield. Many were partying, but it appeared only a few were betting?! There were no lines of people standing 20 deep waiting to make a bet. Even in the Grandstand area there were no lines at the betting windows. How could this be? For 18 consecutive years, I had stood behind a Teller Window punching tickets non-stop from 9:30am until the last horse loaded for the Preakness race at 6:09pm!
Considering the on-track handle (aka amount of money wagered) was well off the record (only the fifth largest), I have a couple reasons for this unlikely phenomenon…
#1 – The economy. People who religiously make the annual pilgrimage to Pimlico on the third Saturday in May were not going to break tradition, but made less trips to the betting windows.
#2 – Online betting accounts. There are plenty of websites available (e.g. Xpressbet; twinspires, TVG) for horse players to make wagers via their computer or telephone. Years ago the use of track public telephones to communicate wagers were strictly prohibited. This pre-dated the cell phone. Even though this rule may still be in place, I doubt that track security is looking to enforce it on Preakness Day. They have their hands full with bigger issues.
# 3 – Lax and Whiffle Ball. These are just two other sporting events that took place yesterday. I’ll be the first to admit, horse racing is sports red-headed stepchild. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Maybe because it requires more work than opening a can of beer and sitting on your duff watching a couple dozen cars turn left for 3 hours? NCAA Lacrosse is big in these parts. Add the fact that two local favorites (Maryland and Hopkins) played in separate games contributed to the reduction in attendance and handle. Add the “Wiffle Ball Tournament” into the mix (stop laughing) and there’s more cash staying in the wallets of competitive guys who like placing a wager on anything!
Despite these factors, those who did attend were treated to great weather and a great day of racing. I had the time of my life, seeing potentially the next Triple Crown winner cross under the wire to a thunderous ovation.
Recapping my special selections on Preakness Day (May 17th)…
Preakness, my pick of Big Brown is nothing to hang ones hat on. Unfortunately, I discounted both Macho Again and Icabad Crane as serious contenders. Needless to say, I did not cash.
Best Bet, Brush On By (# 7; 1st race; 9-2) was scratched.
Longshot, Media Play (# 2; 2nd race on the turf; 6-1) attracted a lot of attention at the betting windows after this race was taken off the turf and the field was whittled down to 9 runners. He broke sharply under jockey John Velazquez who guided Media Play to an exciting half length victory, paying $6.80 to WIN. Not exactly the longshot price we may have gotten with a bigger field on the grass, but we’ll take it.
On Sunday, typically a Live Racing day, Pimlico takes the day to recover (i.e. clean up, provide employees who worked extended hours a well-deserved day off, etc.) from Preakness Day.
If you were at Preakness yesterday, what did you observe (that I could approve for posting)?
Thanks again Big Brown. See ya at Belmont on June 6th.