by Katherine O. Rizzo, photos by Jim McCue
(first appeared in the May 2016 issue of The Equiery)
Last May, the Preakness Stakes was run for the 140th time, and what an anniversary it was! The skies darkened as the Preakness horses left the paddock. Sideways rain and strong winds nearly lifted infield tents as spectators huddled under overhangs. But as the horses neared the starting gate, the rain began to lighten and the wind seemed to settle. Eight horses left the gate with Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah taking a commanding lead from the start, never looking back. With a clear victory at the Preakness Stakes added to his resume, American Pharoah next took on, and won, the Belmont to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. Oh, yeah, and then he went on to win the Breeders Cup as well.
While billions of eyes around the world were focused on this once-in-a-lifetime horse, a team of extraordinary people behind the scenes made sure that the show went on. Each May, The Equiery highlights a few of these “People Behind the Preakness” through a series of interviews. This year we had a chance to catch up with a veterinarian, a paddock judge, a placing judge and a member of the track maintenance crew.
David Whitman – Track Surfaces
As Pimlico was getting soaked by the storm, many spectators wondered if the Preakness would even be able to be held with the amount of rain that was falling on the track. David Whitman, who leads a team of seven tasked with maintaining the track surface, admitted it was a bit of a nail-biting experience. “We were tracking the storm on the radar and were able to prep the track early enough,” he said. “Because there was that turf race before the Preakness, we had the time we needed to pack down the footing. It was certainly a dramatic couple of moments!”
The dirt track at Pimlico is a sand, clay and silt mixture, though the majority of it is sand. “The clay and silt help hold the sand together,” Whitman explained. Each year, more of this mixture is added where needed to replace what was lost due to weather.
On racing days, the track is dragged after every race and watered as needed. “On Preakness Day we have so much time between races that we do water it more if it starts to dry out,” he said.
Whitman has worked for the Maryland Jockey Club for 32 years this June and has worked around the track for many years before that. “Last year’s Preakness will definitely be the one I’ll always remember!” he stated. “The weather was crazy. That storm was perfectly timed and we were able to make tough decisions at the right moments to get it right.”
Mario Verge – Paddock Judge
According to paddock judge Mario Verge, the primary role of that position is to ensure that horses and jockeys make it in and out of the paddock in a safe manner… and on time! Verge, who has worked for the Maryland Jockey Club for 12 years, said, “I make sure the horses come in to the paddock on time, have the right equipment for the race they are in, and leave the paddock on time.”
The paddock at Pimlico can handle a maximum of 12 horses but since the Preakness horses tack up on the turf, that race can accommodate up to 14 horses. “We would rather have them all stay on the grass but some trainers prefer to tack up inside,” he explained, adding that he has an assistant judge who watches over the indoor paddock for that race.
After being a jockey for 23 years, Verge worked in the jockey’s room for a bit before heading right into this “office” position. “I really feel it is the best job in the office. I love being outside with the horses,” he said. And although Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan days can be a bit more hectic with the big crowds and electric atmosphere, Verge said, “I love those two days of racing. I’m still a fan, too!” Verge added that Black-Eyed Susan day is the hardest day on the Maryland racing calendar to be a paddock judge as the Preakness trainers want to still be able to school their horses in the paddock while there is a full day of racing with big fields going on. “We have to juggle things a bit more that day.”
Verge’s first Preakness as paddock judge was when the filly Rachel Alexandra won in 2009. “That was memorable for me because it was my first Preakness as a judge,” he stated. “And last year with American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown, that was special.” But probably the most memorable Preakness day for Verge was while he was still a jockey. He said, “It was my first time as a jockey racing on Preakness day and the crowd was so huge and loud. I was the last to load and the sound from the crowd was just unforgettable.” He continued, “It got a little quiet as we went around the back side. But as soon as we hit the turn at the stretch… it was the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard!”
Leo Hernandez – Turf Maintenance
Although the Preakness Stakes is run on the dirt track, on Preakness day, there are six to seven races held on Pimlico’s turf track. An additional five turf races are held the day before on Black-Eyed Susan Day. “Typically during the spring meets, there are only three or four races on the turf,” Leo Hernandez said. “This helps keep the turf at a high quality.”
Hernandez’s first Preakness Stakes was nearly ten years ago but he took on the role of turf maintenance last year. “Two years ago I was working under Robbie Mitton. He had been there for years,” Hernandez stated. He took over the position when Mitton left for Saratoga (New York). When treated properly, turf tracks hold up for a very long time, he explained. “The current turf is only three years old. We’re using a different type of grass now.”
So how does Pimlico’s turf maintain its high quality? “Each spring we aerate it and dress it with some sand,” Hernandez said. “On non-racing days, we keep [the grass] high. It gets cut down to three or three and a half inches on race days.” If it has rained, a core sample is taken to see how soft the turf is. “Softer really isn’t better,” he said. “It makes the divots from the horses too deep and if a horse caught a foot on one, he could fall.”
Thankfully, with proper maintenance, the turf at Pimlico holds up very well. “It is a really good track. It can handle three to four inches of rain pretty well. That is when we punch holes to check the core for softness.”
Eric Coatrieux – Placing Judge
When a spot as a placing judge opened up last fall at Pimlico, Eric Coatrieux, who was working as a placing judge at Penn National at the time, eagerly took the position. “I was an exercise rider and trainer for years and when I retired, I wanted to stay involved with the sport,” he said. “I was in the jockey’s room, then worked the gate and have been a placing judge for the past three or so years. When the position at Pimlico opened up, I jumped at it!”
This year will be Coatrieux’s first Preakness as a placing judge and he said, “It’s exciting and new. We have a good crew here and everyone knows what to do.” So what exactly does a placing judge do? Remember those little saddle numbers in the colored boxes that appear under the race footage on the Jumbotron or your television? Those numbers are put there by a group of three judges who sit up at the top of the grandstand next to the stewards’ room. “We watch the race and put the numbers up as the race is going on,” Coatrieux explained. “And then when the race is over, we put up the final numbers and check with the stewards to find out when the race results are official.” He added, “When everything is official, we put up all the placings for the whole race. Not just the top three.”
Dave Scheing – Pari-Mutuel Operations
Growing up in a family of horsemen, Dave Scheing first started attending Preakness as a kid. Now, although his family no longer breeds racehorses, Scheing is even more heavily involved with the Preakness Stakes. Scheing has worked for the Maryland Jockey Club for 20+ years and is now in charge of pari-mutuel operations.
Scheing explains pari-mutual betting as the public betting among themselves versus against the “house,” as in the type of betting that takes place in a casino. A portion of every bet goes towards race purses and overhead costs of running the tracks. On a typical Saturday during a race meet in Maryland, the total wagering would be around five million dollars. “On Preakness Day, the total wagering is around 80 million,” Scheing stated, adding, “We one time went over 90 million.” If you’re looking to try and get into some sort of betting, whether it be on horse-racing or any other sporting events, have a look into pages that explain how to bet on sports containing everything from total beginners information to the more experienced and technical sides of making bets.
This makes Preakness Day the largest day on the racing calendar in terms of betting. “Black-Eyed Susan Day is pretty big, too,” he said. Last year, the total wagering on Black-Eyed Susan Day was 18 million with Preakness Day being 85 million. “Maryland Million Day is really good too but it doesn’t touch those two in terms of wagering,” Scheing explained. “Preakness is the biggest day of the year.”
Scheing said he believes wagering is so large on Preakness Day because it is the second of the Triple Crown races. “When Preakness comes around, there is still a chance for a Triple Crown winner so that generates a lot of excitement around the world,” he said.
So which Preakness Stakes stands out the most to Scheing? “American Pharoah and the Triple Crown for sure,” he said. “But then there is Afleet Alex too…”
Dr. David Zipf – Chief Veterinarian of the Maryland Racing Commission
The 2016 Preakness Stakes will be Dr. David Zipf’s 51st year with the Maryland Racing Commission’s veterinary team. As chief veterinarian, Dr. Zipf leads a team of four veterinarians with the main purpose of ensuring the safety of the horses, a job that is much more involved then simple soundness exams.
“We do soundness examinations on every horse that is racing that day. We look at legs, watch them jog in-hand, do flexions…” he stated. “Then one of us is always at the start gate to watch them warm up and load. No exceptions. And one of us is at the finish line watching there as well.” He went on to say that if a horse comes up lame after racing or looks sore, “they go on a list and must be watched by one of our vets before racing again.” The team also takes blood samples to check for any medications. “It is a very comprehensive test,” he said.
But the job of these veterinarians does not just start on racing day. “We also examine them as soon as they arrive when shipping in,” Dr. Zipf said. In addition, any horse that is scratched from a race must be verified with the horse’s private veterinarian. “We have a great relationship with the private practices we deal with. That is very important.”
Each day around noon, the team meets to discuss what each of them found in the morning. Dr. Zipf explained that these official track veterinarians cannot have private practices because there could be a conflict of interest. “There have been several times through the years that I thought about going into private practice,” he said with a chuckle. “This is just such an interesting job. It is what you put into it. And it can be very rewarding.”
Dr. Zipf said that Preakness day is not much different from other racing days except that all graded stakes races have additional blood tests of all the horses in that race taken about two hours before the race. “The rest is the same, except there is much higher security around the Preakness horses,” he added.
Dr. Zipf graduated from Ohio State and was planning on staying there as an ambulatory vet. “The school was going through some changes and the position no longer was available,” he said. At the same time, the MRC chief veterinarian, Dr. Davie Pace, who was also an Ohio State graduate, called up the school looking for a new member of the MRC team. “I was recommended, sent in my resume and got the job,” Dr. Zipf said.
Now 50+ years later, Dr. Zipf is looking forward to the 141st Preakness Stakes and looked back at last year’s Preakness with fondness. “That has to be one of the most memorable races. The way American Pharoah won in that storm. That guy really stands out,” he said, adding, “The way he won, with such authority, really something to watch! Sports Illustrated sure got it wrong putting that tennis player on the cover as athlete of the year.”
by Katherine O. Rizzo
(first appeared in the May 2015 issue of The Equiery)
When watching the Preakness Stakes on television or seeing it live at Pimlico, it is hard to take your eyes off the horses racing, which is exactly the goal of the crew that puts on this nationally telecast sporting event. Getting the Preakness Stakes to run without a hitch takes an enormous team effort and each May, The Equiery presents a few of these key players.
In addition to these interviews, we asked Equiery readers to tell us about their favorite Preakness win in celebration of 140 years of the Preakness Stakes.
Sal Sinatra – Maryland Jockey Club Vice President and General Manager
Sal Sinatra might be one of the new guys behind the scenes at Preakness this year but he is no stranger to horse racing. Sinatra joined the Maryland Jockey Club as its vice president and general manager in December 2014 after spending 16 years as vice president of racing at Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. There he helped develop the Pennsylvania Derby Day into a top-notch race card with headliner California Chrome running there last September along with Bayern, who won. Joe Brauckmann, a racing official at Parx, told the Baltimore Sun in February, “Biggest day they’ve had here at the track. A lot of people took the accolades, but Sal was the guy.”
Sinatra plans to take these ideas and expand on them when it comes to Pimlico and the Preakness race meet. “At the moment I am focusing more on Black-Eyed Susan Day. It has room for growth and we’ve already made a few tweaks and changes,” Sinatra explained. One such change for this year is the conditions and payout for the Pimlico Special (G3).
For starters, the race will offer a $50,000 owner/trainer bonus to any Triple Crown event winner running in the Pimlico Special. If the horse has won two Triple Crown events, the bonus will be $100,000 to both the trainer and owner. “We were hoping this would attract California Chrome back to Pimlico but it looks like he is staying in Europe this spring,” Sinatra said. “My goal is to bring this race back to its grander days. It would be great for a Preakness winner to come back and run [in the Pimlico Special].”
In general, Sinatra, who hasn’t been to a Preakness Stakes since 2004, is aiming to make sure the day goes on as planned. “We want to showcase what Maryland can do with the national spotlight. Preakness is a celebration of racing and of Maryland. My job is to coordinate this giant event and make it a safe and terrific experience for all who come,” he said, adding, “I have full confidence in the team here that puts this day together.”
Sinatra recently moved to Annapolis from the Philadelphia area and added that the welcome has been tremendous. “At Parx, I would hear the horseman talk about how great the hospitality is in Maryland. Everyone here has been very welcoming. Not just those at the track, everyone I’ve met.”
Tim Ritvo – Stronach Group Chief Operating Officer
Tim Ritvo has been with the Stronach Group, owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, since 2009. He describes his main job as overseeing the operation of the tracks and specifically related to the Preakness, “to improve the quality of racing in Maryland. The corporation is now focused on Maryland racing. We are running financial models and looking at various other tracks owned by Stronach to make a plan for Maryland.” A formal announcement will be made within the next few months and will outline the Stronach Group’s vision for Maryland racing.
The ultimate goal is to make racing in Maryland the centerpiece for racing in the Mid-Atlantic region. For this year’s Preakness meet, Ritvo reported that there have been small changes to the grandstand at Pimlico as well as some tweaking to the races. “The overall goal is to improve the experience for the spectators and fans,” he said.
“I am very fortunate to work for a real racing group. Rest assured, Maryland racing fans, the Stronach Group puts racing first,” Ritvo stated.
Dave Rodman – Announcer/Race Caller
Dave Rodman started calling races in 1981 at Jefferson Downs in Louisiana. “I had heard that the announcer was leaving to pursue a trainer position so I went up and started practicing with him for a few months before getting the job,” Rodman explained. After three years at Jefferson Downs, Rodman moved to Louisiana Downs in Bossier City. It was while calling races there that Rodman heard that the position at Pimlico was opening up.
“It was in 1991 and I sent a resume along with a tape of some of the races I had called up to Pimlico. I was basically hired over the phone and made the move to Maryland,” he said. “It was a move I wanted to make. With racing at both Pimlico and Laurel there was more stability up here. Racing was practically going on year-round.”
This year will mark the 25th Preakness Stakes that Rodman has announced. “I still get butterflies at times. It is not just the race itself for me… it is a special week for me because of all the little things,” he said. “Being able to watch the Kentucky Derby horse unload from the van when he arrives. Standing right up on the rail watching these great horses train. The stakes barn atmosphere… it is all very special and unique.”
“Electric” is the word Rodman used often when describing Preakness week, especially Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days. “You can hear the response from the crowds all the way up to my window. You end up reacting to the crowd just as much as they are reacting to what you are saying.” Rodman says he has the best seat in the house, way up at the top of the grandstand just right of the finish line. “Pimlico has a unique angle in how the side of the building angles towards the track. It makes it so the horses seem to gallop right at you when they come down the stretch and then turn under you right as they finish.”
Rodman explained that even at that high vantage point, on Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days the infield festivities mean that as the announcer, he has to plan for some disturbances. “Sometime the horses will disappear for a split second as they pass by a tent or the band stage so you have to plan for those situations and make sure you aren’t calling out names at that moment.” But even with the tents, Rodman feels he has the best view for calling the race.
When asked which Preakness Stakes stands out the most in his mind, Rodman said it is hard to choose. “A few years ago I would have answered that question as 1997 when Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit and Free House came down the rail all bunched together. But now, the momentum and fan base that came along with California Chrome last year was pretty electric. And Big Brown’s impressive victory… Rachel Alexandra as the first filly to win in 85 years… Afleet Alex almost falling but still winning…. Smarty Jones….” And then of course there was Hansel in 1991, which was the first Preakness Stakes that Rodman called. “That one will always be special simply because it was my first.”
Lisa Richardson has been involved with racing her whole life. Her father was a trainer and she grew up at Panorama Farm in Harford County. She has been an assistant trainer for Rodney Jenkins, assistant to the Director of Racing/Racing Secretary Georganne Hale, a placing judge and a fill-in horse identifier before becoming the full-time horse identifier at Pimlico. “This is my dream job. I really enjoy what I do and feel very lucky to have a job like this,” she said.
So what exactly does the horse identifier do? It is a combination of a lot of paperwork, communicating with trainers and working hands-on with the horses. “Every Thoroughbred who comes to Pimlico to race must have on file its foal registration papers and a valid Coggins test,” Richardson explained. It is her responsibility to make sure each day that these papers are in fact on file and to contact the trainers if anything is missing. Then before each race, Richardson inspects the lip tattoo of each horse to make sure it matches the paperwork.
Although the job itself does not actually change for the Preakness, things get a bit more complicated as most of the Preakness card horses come to Pimlico from outside of Maryland. “This means we have to collect interstate travel papers as well,” she said. After the race, all paperwork goes back to the trainers. “After Preakness we need to get papers back to them quickly as many ship out early for the Belmont,” Richardson added.
“This is my second year as the identifier for Preakness. It is a thrill. Gives you a chill,” Richardson said adding that the bigger volume of paperwork is worth it.
Keith Feustle – Handicapper
The morning line odds that appear in each day’s race program come from Pimlico’s official handicapper. Keith Feustle took over that position when Frank Carulli retired two years ago. “I had been setting odds in the early ‘90s for Racing Times and Colonial Downs before taking over at Pimlico and Laurel,” Feustle said.
The goal of setting the morning odds is to have the program odds end up as close as possible to the final race odds set by the betting public. “The odds are my opinion on how the public will bet for that race,” he explained. “You have to look at a host of variables and think like the public will think.” Some of the variables that Feustle looks at are changes in trainers, jockey switches and class changes.
Feustle uses this same sort of formula when setting the Preakness Stakes odds but on a much larger scale. “Everyone across the country is watching this race. The spotlight is on us,” Feustle explained. “The horse that wins the [Kentucky] Derby has to have special consideration but the tricky thing about the Preakness is that there tends to be a few horses new to the Triple Crown races who skipped the Derby for one reason or another.” Such “new shooters,” like Social Inclusion last year, tend to pose a threat for the Derby winner. “I put Social Inclusion right up there behind California Chrome last year and took some grief over it but I ended up being fairly close.”
And who will be the favorite for this year’s Preakness Stakes? As we were chatting with Feustle, the prospective Derby field was taking shape and after that race on May 2, the Preakness odds will begin to formulate in Feustle’s head.
In order to even the playing field, horses in a specific race are each assigned a weight to carry. The race has a specific base weight and then weights are adjusted for each horse based on handicapping and the horse’s record. Since all jockeys do not weigh the same, equipment such as saddles and weight pads must be accounted for when making sure that the horse carries the specified weight for that specific race. Interestingly, safety equipment like a jockey’s helmet is not factored into the total weight. “The jocks are given a two pound allowance to account for helmets,” Frank Saumell, clerk of scales, explained.
“I wouldn’t trade my job for anything in the world. I’m like a principal in some ways. Keeping things in order and making sure the whole operation runs smoothly,” he said. But it takes a whole team to make sure that everyone weighs in and out correctly. The valets work directly with the jockeys to make sure the correct saddles and such are being used for each race and everyone seems to move smoothly between the jockey room, paddock, track and winner’s circle. “It may seem that I run the room but it sort of runs itself, really.”
Jockeys check in 18 minutes before each race and then check back in as soon as the race finishes. There are two scales at Pimlico, one in the jockey’s room and one in the winner’s circle. “We have the best scales in the world!” Saumell stated.
Saumell’s whole family has been in racing for generations. “I was raised on the track. There are lots of riders and trainers in my family,” he said. Saumell was even a jockey himself in his teens and then galloped for various trainers. Before becoming assistant clerk of scales under Adam Campola, who is now a race steward at Pimlico, Saumell was the head cook in the jock room kitchen for 10 years. “I love the people I work with,” which includes longtime friend Campola. “Without him and Georganne [Hale], I wouldn’t have this job.”
Saumell admits that for the Preakness, the jockey’s room becomes a lot more stressful. “Everyone wants the race to be flawless but I don’t feel the stress as much as others. The cameras and everything comes in. It’s always fun. A great time of the year!”
by Katherine O. Rizzo
(first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Equiery)
Last May, The Equiery presented eight key players who bring the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Stakes to life each year. This year we are introducing a few more of those faces to give you a behind-the-scenes glance of the Pimlico Spring Meet and Preakness week. From pony riders to photographers to stewards to analysts, these people help make the Preakness Stakes the most widely telecast equestrian event in Maryland.
Towson University graduate Gabby Gaudet went through a tough interview process to earn the job as racing analyst for Laurel and Pimlico. Last spring, she and three other candidates went through an on-air audition at Laurel Park. “I was really looking for a younger face and someone who would come out and really step up to take the job. The then 22-year-old Gaudet did just that,” said Mike Gathagan, MJC Vice President/Communications.
“Being this young in this sort of position has its ups and downs,” she said. “Racing has been sort of an older man’s sport and there were some critics who initially felt I hadn’t been around the track long enough to do the job.” Although she is now only 23, Gaudet has spent her whole life in and around the racing industry as the daughter of trainers Eddie (now retired) and Linda Gaudet.
Her official position includes handicapping between races, with the results tweeted to the public as well as being found online. “I try to pick out the horses who are most likely to win each race, in my opinion, and give spectators some insight into the trainers, bloodlines of the horses, etc.” She also writes a blog for Pimlico, Laurel and Preakness websites and produces news of the day and week for simulcast. “Last Preakness I interned with Frank [Carulli, former MJC racing analyst] before officially taking on the job in September. I feel like I did a 180 from last year. This year I have my own niche. I’m more myself.” Gaudet’s age has actually helped her and MJC reach a younger crowd and bring a younger audience out to the track.
“Preakness week takes on a whole new level. It is a madhouse, but a good madhouse,” she said. Her biggest advice for bettors and spectators is to head down to the paddock and actually look at the horses. “It might sound clichéd but you really need to look at them. The winners stand out.”
Chief steward Phil Grove said it best when he stated, “This room has over 100 years of combined experience.” The three men who make up the steward list for Maryland racing have probably held every job you can think of at a track including being jockeys, trainers, owners, jockey agents, clerk of scales and racing officials. These various positions make them experts in the sport of racing and thus help ensure that races in Maryland are held fairly. “We are hired by the Maryland Racing Commission and thus work for the state and we have jurisdiction over all the racing personnel at the track,” Burke explained.
In order to become a steward, candidates must first rise through the ranks of being racing officials and then apply to steward school. At the end of training, they must pass an exam before earning a steward’s license. Every two years they must take continuing education classes. “The toughest part is just getting a job,” Burke said, as there are not that many tracks left in the U.S. and each track only has three stewards.
Two stewards stand at the steward box window watching the race, and one watches a set of video monitors showing the race from several angles. The three stewards rotate positions after each race. “Good horsemanship is the most important part of this job. We want to keep the track safe,” Grove said. An inquiry can either be made by the stewards based on something they see during the race or by a jockey who was in the race. Each outrider has a radio and when a race is over, a jockey can request a hold if necessary and speak with the stewards. If an inquiry is made, the stewards will then review the race footage as many times as needed and vote as to whether an infraction was made or not. “Sometimes it takes a long time but that is so we make sure that everything is fair.”
Another tidbit about the steward position is that at the start of the race, it is the stewards who stop all betting for that race. As soon as the starting gates open, a button is pushed to end all betting. And of course, as is necessary, the stewards have the best view of every race! High atop Pimlico’s grandstands, the stewards can see the entire track even when the infield is full of Preakness partygoers.
“Preakness day is my favorite day of the year,” Burke said. Campola, who also is a steward for steeplechase racing, commented, “It gets more and more exciting around here as more and more people come out to the track the closer we get to Preakness. Black-Eyed Susan is a little more relaxed.” “There are more owners that tend to come out for Black-Eyed Susan. That is when the momentum of the weekend starts to pick up,” Grove added.
Karen Przybyla – Pony Rider
Karen Przybyla did not start riding until later in life. She did not grow up on the backstretch or at a nearby farm. In fact, she was a model for a few years until she married rider Eddie, who is now the senior outrider for Pimlico. “I started by just walking horses for various people and picking up odd jobs here and there,” Przybyla said, adding that through the years everyone at Pimlico and Laurel has been so kind and taught her everything she knows. Now after 40 years of being a pony rider, Przybyla is known around the barns as “mom.”
The job of a pony rider is a big responsibility. “We’re like babysitters. We have to be patient and quiet and make sure the jockeys and horses get to the starting gate safely,” she explained. Each evening before race days, all the pony riders meet to go over the next day’s race card and figure out which pony riders might need some extra help. “We are all self-employed and licensed through the Maryland Jockey Club. We build our own client lists through the years and work with specific trainers.”
Riders own their own ponies and cover their own expenses such as bedding, hay and feed. “Our horses have to come first. They’re our partners out there. It takes a special type of horse to be a pony horse. They must be docile and have a friendly attitude. I’ve been fortunate through the years to have some of the nicest horses either given to me or purchased for me.” Przybyla‘s current mount is a Quarter Horse named Mouse who had an old stifle injury and who her husband bought for her. “I started crying; he was so beautiful and he is just perfect for this job. I’d like to have five more like him.”
Although being a pony rider is a year-round job, Przybyla says Preakness week is extra special and all the pony riders know that the whole world is watching. “We get ourselves all dolled up and our ponies get to wear the new saddle cloths. Some even braid their horses and put glitter on their hooves. Its like a fancy day at the office.” Przybyla also talked about the momentum leading up to the Preakness Stakes. “It’s like organized mayhem. Things get bigger and bigger and the crowds get more and more into it. Then after it is all over we sit around thinking ‘thank god it is only one day of the year!'” she said, laughing.
Bob Vinci – Detective & Willie Coleman – Security Consultant
With well over 100,000 people descending on Pimlico for Preakness day, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination to make sure every person and every horse are where they need to be, and not where they shouldn’t be. Taking care of the security at Pimlico falls on Security Consultant Willie Coleman and Detective Bob Vinci.
Vinci joined the MJC team in 1998 after 29 years with the Police Department. “This was a good opportunity for me to get into the private sector,” he explained. Vinci floats back and forth between Laurel and Pimlico but once the Woodlawn Vase arrives at Pimlico, he sticks around. Tiffany and Company crafted the Woodlawn Vase in 1860 as a trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association. Now the trophy, which is valued at $1 million, is presented each year to the winning Preakness owner. The trophy is housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art and brought to Pimlico sometime during the week leading up to the Preakness Stakes.
“Once the trophy is here, it is watched over by armed guards at all times,” Vinci stated. “On Preakness day, it is a military honor guard that delivers it to the winner’s circle for all the photographs and such.” During Preakness week, the Woodlawn Vase becomes a celebrity of sorts, making appearances at key events including the annual Alibi Breakfast.
Coleman has been working for MJC since 1987, making sure that the security needs in and around the track are met. From getting the public safely in and out of Pimlico on race day to patrolling the grounds, Coleman oversees a lot of people. “We go from about 1,500 spectators on a regular racing day to more than 100,000 on Preakness day,” explained Coleman. “More security is needed as it gets closer to race day and the Preakness horses begin to arrive.”
Both men agree that the best thing about Preakness is the people. The horsemen, the staff, the spectators, the press….all make for a week of pageantry celebrating the sport of racing here in Maryland. “It really is the ‘People’s Party.’ People are having fun but understand there is a security presence,” Vinci said. Coleman added with a smile, “You just have to be here to truly understand the atmosphere. I don’t think I can really describe it. Hundreds of people all cheering and having a good time.”
As Preakness day gets closer, things at Pimlico “get pretty electric” according to Maryland Jockey Club track photographer Jim McCue who is tasked with recording that electricity in photos. “My main job is to take all the publicity photos for our website and the media but I also take the winner’s circle photos for the trainers,” he explained. Although McCue grew up around the track and his parents were owners and trainers, he did not start shooting for MJC until 1970. Before that, he was a U.S. Army photographer.
“Race photography is a lot different from shooting landscapes,” McCue said. “As with any skill, you just need to get out there and keep practicing to get better and more proficient.” Unlike taking photos in a studio, track photographers have no control over lighting, weather, or the horses and people they are shooting. “Practice, practice, practice. That is really the best tip I can give.”
by Katherine O. Rizzo
(first appeared in the May 2013 issue of The Equiery)
The Preakness Stakes is by far the most widely telecast equestrian event in the state of Maryland. The middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness is know as “The People’s Party” mainly because traditionally, it was the only race in the series that allowed spectators to watch from the infield. Today, 138 years later, the race day has turned into a must-see event spanning several weeks.
Bringing the Preakness, and Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan day, to life takes a huge team of people, many more than we are able to write about in this issue. Here are just a few of the key players behind the Preakness. Stay tuned for more faces and more stories in future issues and we hope to see you at Pimlico in the coming weeks!
Georganne Hale–Director of Racing
Georganne Hale in no stranger to horse racing. She was the first woman in the state of Maryland to hold the position of paddock judge and in the summer of 1987 she became the first woman to serve as racing secretary when she took over Timonium’s 10-day meet. In 2000, Georganne was promoted to racing secretary at Pimlico and Laurel, becoming the first woman in history to fill that position at a major track. A year later, Georganne moved into the position of the Maryland Jockey Club’s Director of Racing.
Regarding Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days, Georganne says her job is “getting the best horses and most horses for those two days of racing. Those two days carry us for the whole year.” Many people do not realize that horses that run in the Kentucky Derby are not automatically entered in the Preakness Stakes. And although the Pimlico grounds are being prepared for Preakness at the start of the year, Georganne stated, “My job really starts as soon as the Derby ends.”
At that point, Georganne is on the phone with trainers getting horses entered in not only the Preakness Stakes, but also all the race day cards for both days. “A lot of times we hear about the Derby horses through the media but the trainers still have to officially enter the horses,” she added.
Karin DeFrancis–Maryland Jockey Club & Preakness Consultant
Karin DeFrancis has a long history with Pimlico and the Maryland Jockey Club and was a former co-owner until 2007. Since then, Karin has continued to be heavily involved with Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days as a consultant who wears many hats. “I’m proud and honored to be a part of this team,” she said. One of her biggest responsibilities is being a promoter and organizer of the infield concerts and this year, she and I.M.P. Inc. brought the Goo Goo Dolls in as the headliners of the first-ever Preakness eve concert.
“Black-Eyed Susan Day is the second biggest day in Maryland racing and it gives the track an international stage to be showcased on,” Karin stated. And over the years, this international stage has married high-quality music with high-quality horses, making for a complete weekend celebration. The first People’s Pink Party on the infield during Black-Eyed Susan Day was in 2010, and since then, the day has grown considerably in popularity and thus the lineup for the day has also grown. “We have a very competitive card for racing that day and the whole weekend brings people from all over the world into Baltimore and its surrounding areas,” Karin added. With an overall plan to continue to maximize the day, Karin and her crew responded to the positive feedback gained from Preakness day concerts and added the Preakness eve concert. To read more about the various concerts, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
After all the planning and organizing are finished, and the two days of racing actually come into play, Karin can be seen everywhere, serving as hostess, putting out fires and responding to customer needs.
Mike Gathagan–Vice President, Communications
If you follow the Maryland Jockey Club on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to MJC’s newsletters and press releases, then Mike Gathagan is a name you will recognize, as all of the above comes out of his office. And it may seem that Mike is the guy who does it all but he will be the first one to tell you “it’s a team effort.” From working with owners, trainers and jockeys to keeping the press happy but in line, broadcasting the Preakness Stakes to the world takes a village.
Prep work for that one weekend starts right after the beginning of the year and by April, all hotel rooms are booked and the people who will be physically on the grounds are hired. And all the hard work pays off as Mike stated, “they [horsemen] come in here and say we are the best of the three [Triple Crown venues].”
Phoebe Hayes–Director of Horsemen’s Relations
Phoebe Hayes’ official title is Director of Horsemen’s Relations, but she fills many slots when it comes to Pimlico. From organizing transportation for owners and trainers to engraving trophies and getting them to the right people, Phoebe is kept busy year-round. In addition to keeping the horsemen happy and coming back to Pimlico, Phoebe also works with publicity and fan education.
A few years ago, Phoebe started the Racing 101 forum, an all-day, all-exclusive backstage pass to what goes on at Pimlico on race days. The day includes talks with trainers, veterinarians, race stewards, jockeys and more. Participants get a first-hand look into the daily training of a racehorse and what it takes to actually start a race, and then enjoy lunch overlooking the track. And that is just the short summary. “The track is such a unique atmosphere and being able to add more knowledge to those who come makes the experience even that much better,” Phoebe said, adding, “educating the public is what I love most about this job.” Phoebe also works closely with other events held at Pimlico including Chasin’ for Children, the Maryland Million and the Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show.
During Preakness week, Phoebe’s staff of two (Phoebe and an assistant) turns into a staff of 55. “We handle all the stakes barn hospitality, book about 500 hotel rooms, hire a fleet of people to transport owners and trainers, organize an exclusive horsemen’s tent in the Corporate Village plus a couple of dining rooms…” explained Phoebe, continuing on with a very, very long list. “We take care of these folks,” she added, which is incredibly important for keeping owners and guests investing in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. And once Preakness is over, Phoebe has to make sure all the trophies are correctly engraved and get them to the correct people. “You’d be surprised how hard delivering trophies can be,” she said.
Fran Burns–Head of Preakness Tours
One of the biggest attractions of Preakness week is the sunrise tour of Pimlico, which takes place on Wednesday through Friday mornings. Around 400 participants, ranging from first-timers to a track to school groups and people who make Sunrise at Old Hilltop an annual event, attend these early morning tours. Fran Burns has been a tour guide at Pimlico for four years and for the past two years, she has been the Head of Preakness Tours. “This is the best job I have ever had. I get to meet interesting people and educate them on what the Thoroughbred is all about,” Fran said.
Tour participants get to learn about Pimlico’s rich history, as well as Maryland’s racing history. They get to go behind the scenes and meet trainers, jockeys and other personnel as well as watch horses breeze and meet the Clydesdales.
Fran handpicks 10 tour guides each year based on several criteria. “They have to be knowledgeable but able to dumb things down a bit to explain what is going on to people who may have never seen a horse before,” Fran said. Plus, each person she hires has his or her own history in the sport to share, giving each tour a personal feel. To read more about this year’s tours, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
Tommy Enzer–Director of Hospitality, Food & Beverage
Ever wonder who coordinates all the various themed food tents? Or who comes up with the menus? All of that comes under the auspices of Tommy Enzer, who starts planning for the Preakness practically as soon as the previous year’s Preakness is over. “We start thinking about new themes and generate ideas around June for the following year. By October we are working with distributors and suppliers to make sure our ideas will work,” he said.
Tommy oversees a staff of 100 for the regular season but that number jumps to over 800 for just one day of racing. Many of the Preakness day staff are hired through various agencies and many are hired internally but all have to be educated on what Preakness is and how to make the whole day seem like an everyday enterprise. “There is just so much culture and so many cool things about this race outside of just the party,” Tommy said.
The menu for the International tent changes each year as a different country plays host. This year, Japan has been selected as the host and Tommy is tasked with bringing guests a blend of Japan and Baltimore. “We want to do what they [Japanese Embassy] want from a cultural standpoint and put our Baltimore spin on it,” he said.
Specific to 2013 is the addition of the Farm-to-Table theme for many of the infield tents, an idea that was generated through Tommy’s office and is hailed as the largest Farm-to-Table experience in the country. Celebrity chef Mike Isabella from Top Chef is also involved in the menu. For details, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
Bruce Wagner–Official Starter
Simply put, the starters start the race. But the job is not that simple and is probably the toughest job in the industry. “They save lives,” said Mike Gathagan. The starters are the people who you see on the ground getting the horses into the starting gate and sitting on the four-inch ledge above the horses in the gate right as the race begins. “Our job is getting all the horses into the gate and off to a safe and fair start,” said Wagner.
Potential starters tend to get into the business through other track-related jobs, whether having been a groom or an exercise rider. But according to Bruce, some watch the starters and think “no way would I ever do that.” Things can go wrong in such a small metal box and even with all the padding and safety measures in place, Bruce said “you have to have some courage” to do this job.
On a normal day, the start crew is about 12 men. On Preakness day, that number goes up to 18. “Some horses might require two men and we want to have a bit of insurance that things go smoothly,” Bruce added. The crew for Preakness day tends to be the same group of men year after year with some having done the job for 15 or more years. “We swap out among the crews between the three tracks,” Bruce said about the Triple Crown races. This allows the starters to know a bit about the horses before they even get to Pimlico. In addition, Bruce and several other starters use a program called Incompass, which stores information on each horse from every race they have ever run in. “So if we have a problem horse, we know how to deal with it ahead of time. It is a great program for safety,” he said.
Richie Ramlchelawan–Jockey Valet
The Maryland Jockey Club technically employs the jockey valets that work at Pimlico, but their real employers are the jockeys themselves. The valet’s job is a multifaceted one that takes a hard-working individual who strives for perfection. At Pimlico, there are 12 valets who do everything from saddling the horses to making sure the jockey’s room is in tiptop shape. “We are like a babysitter in some ways, making sure everything is nice and neat and ready for each race. We make the jockey room a home away from home for each jockey,” Pimlico valet Richie Ramlchelawan said.
But the most important part of the job according to Richie is overseeing the saddles. Richie explained that each jockey has different-sized saddles that are used, depending on the weight needed for each race. They also make sure the jockeys have the right-colored helmet covers and silks, that their boots are clean, and the like. “We take that pressure off the jockeys so they can go out and win,” he added.
Each valet works with a specific jockey or jockeys and Richie, who calls himself a perfectionist, said, “I work for some of the elite in the business,” adding that the valet business can be a bit cutthroat at times, but his interactions with jockeys have been good ones. “They don’t get enough respect, in my opinion. They are classy and stick together like a family. Everyone I work with is so polite and they respect me as well,” he commented.
As for Preakness Day, it is business as usual in the jockey room. Richie admits he puts a bit more pressure on himself that day. “There is a lot of money riding on that one race and I want to make sure my job makes everything go smoothly for the jockeys. It is not just about one race, we take pride in Maryland racing,” he said.