Meet Your Sunrise at Old Hilltop Tour Guides
Join Pimlico’s Sunrise Tour Guides during Preakness week!
Tours run from 6 a.m. ’til 9 a.m. on Tuesday through Friday during Preakness week.
Wendy Chapin Albert has been a passionate horse and pony lover all her life. Growing up in Ruxton with many backyard ponies, if her parents did not know where she was, all they had to do was call the neighbors with horses. Christmas 1972 was very special for Wendy as she received a pony named Tangerine. “She taught me so much! We enjoyed showing, foxhunting with the Green Spring Valley Hounds, Pony Club and eventing,” she remarked.
While at Sweet Briar College, Wendy rode on the IHSA team and loved hunting in the Charlottesville, VA area. Her husband Tolly Albert is a Thoroughbred trainer as was his father, Talbot J. Albert, III, so racing became a part of Wendy’s life when she married into the Albert family. “It is very special to be a part of the backside environment at Pimlico and Laurel racetracks,” she said. “From 2005 to 2008, we stabled our Thoroughbreds at Pimlico. Tolly was the trainer, I was a hot walker and my sister in-law worked, too. The memories of being at Pimlico daily are very special ones.”
Wendy and Tolly included their daughters in the racing experience and took them to many runnings of the Preakness Stakes. “Together, we know and understand the excitement, the patience, the tears, the long hours and the genuine thrill of horse racing. Just standing in a horse’s stall and placing your face on his neck and breathing is one of the most satisfying feelings on earth,” she added. “My favorite Preakness memory is watching Secretariat win in 1973,” she said. “Even though my parents and I were not at Pimlico, it was an electric moment in time. An incredible horse never to be forgotten.”
Wendy says her favorite part of being a Sunrise Tour Guide is getting to introduce guests to Bobby Lillis. “He hands them a jock’s saddle, shows them the lightweight tiny boots.” She also added, “walking guests through the paddock is always exciting and then showing them the Winners Circle and scale. It is exciting introducing people to Pimlico, the horses on the track and the horses in the Stakes Barn.”
Fran Burns is a Thoroughbred advocate. She is the head tour guide for Sunrise Tours at Pimlico and volunteers for MidAtlantic Horse Rescue and other horse related organizations. She hosts tours of Timonium Race Track during the Maryland State Fair and also works at Canter for the Cause at Pimlico. In her free time, she manages Boxwood Farm in Monkton, a boarding operation that houses her three Thoroughbreds and two boarders.
“What do I like best about tours?” Fran said, “To see a child’s face light up when they touch a horse for the first time is the most satisfying experience one can ever have.”
For the last several years Fran has worked in the hospitality tent in the Stakes Barn on Preakness Day. “It is quite an honor to meet the horses, owners, trainers and the grooms,” she explained. “Winning the Preakness is incredibly exciting, especially with a horse that has won the Derby, however, honestly, the most touching moment for me was last year when I was talking to trainer Rodolphe Brisset and his wife Brooke. They trained Quip, an exceptional horse, who ran last year in the Preakness. What struck me was their sincere dedication to the animal and their care.” Fran went on to say, “The two of them were unaffected by all of the pomp and circumstance of the Preakness and stayed so dedicated to their horse. I love this about the sport. The dedication to the animal really speaks to me!”
Denise Carnes’ love for horses stems from her love of all animals. Her parents took her to Pimlico and Timonium for the horse races when she was young and she loved to watch the horses. “My Dad, being an avid horseracing fan, told me the stories of the great horses of the past, and we enjoyed racing events when I was growing up,” she explained.
Her love for horses was passed on to her daughter, who took it a step further and showed horses in hunter/jumper competitions. “We also loved to go to the major events such as Preakness, Belmont, Breeders Cup and even the Kentucky Derby,” she added. In 2010, Denise and her daughter did their own “Triple Crown” and went to all three races. “Although it wasn’t a Triple Crown year for the horse, it was for me.” That year, it was Lookin At Lucky who won the Preakness and went on to win the Haskell and be named 3-year-old Male Horse of the Year.
“The thing that I like most about being a Sunrise Tour Guide is meeting people from all over the country that come to Pimlico,” she said. “It is amazing to me that people come from all over and I love sharing the history of Pimlico and the Preakness with them.”
Erika Taylor Crowl
Erika Crowl grew up riding with Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club. When she was 15 year old, she started hot walking horses at Pimlico on the weekends for one of her Pony Club instructors. Then, a year later, she started galloping for Kevin Boniface at Bonita Farm in the mornings before school. “Kevin was very instrumental in my riding career,” Erika said.
Later, after college, Erika started working for Tom Voss, which is when she started riding steeplechase races and thanks to FEGENTRI, has been able to travel the world riding flat races while representing the USA. Currently, Erika rides for various trainers in the mornings and weekends, all while working full-time for the University of Maryland Extension. “On my down time, I enjoy foxhunting, eventing, and horse showing,” she said.
Erika loves being able to share her passion of horse racing with those who come to the Sunrise Tours. “Especially sharing Maryland racing with others who man know little about horses in general,” she explained. “Normally on Preakness day, I’m busy working, so I don’t get to stand very close but last year, I was lucky enough to be on the inside rail at the wire to see Justify win!” she said.
Frank Durkee started his association with horses while a student at McDonogh School. He used to show and for the past 40 years has fox hunted with the Mount Carmel and Elkridge Harford Hounds. He has two OTTBs that he hunts. His son Brooks was a steeplechase jockey and trainer. Frank and his wife Kathy live on a small horse farm in Monkton. Frank is a member of The Manor Race Committee and The Manor Conservancy.
Dr. Erica Gaertner started riding at the age of four and loved everything related to horses when she was little, including going to Pimlico and watching the races. In high school, Erica became interested in steeplechasing and rode in that sport off and on for 15 years. She also competed in hunter/jumper shows, mostly with off-the-track Thoroughbreds. To this day, her favorite Preakness memory is standing in the pouring rain watching American Pharoah win the Preakness on his way to becoming a Triple Crown winner.
Erica attended medical school and is now a resident physician, but continues to gallop horses for trainers Billy Meister and Jonathan Sheppard whenever she has a day off. Erica says she enjoys being a tour guide, “because it is a way for me to stay connected with the horse community and get other people involved. It is great to be able to show people some of the lesser-known behind-the-scenes aspects of horse racing. It’s very fulfilling to promote a sport that is a huge part of my life.”
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Bobby Lillis has been working at the track for 50 years, the last 43 in Maryland. Life on the racetrack is all that he knows. Bobby started out as a hot walker, learned to groom, then worked his way up to exercise rider and jockey. Bobby has always been an advocate for backstretch workers. In 1998, he landed in the position of Executive Director of the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation, a 501c-3 charity that provides essential needs to stable employees and farm workers.
“What I like about Sunrise Tours is that I get to be part of the team that teaches our visitors that Thoroughbreds are more then just horses who love to run, they are also very compassionate animals and we do get attached to them,” Bobby said. “There are many joys of working with these horses and understanding their passionate characters. They are part of the family and are treated as such.”
Bobby joked, “I’ve never been to a Preakness I didn’t like!” But then added, “My favorite Preakness was in 1978, enjoying the afternoon with my wife and witnessing the incredible stretch run between the future Triple Crown winner Affirmed beating Alydar by a neck. Who was gonna win through the whole stretch run was anybody’s guess. It really could have gone either way. What a race!”
Posey Obrecht has been around horses for as long as she can remember. She grew up foxhunting, competing in hunter/jumpers on the “A” circuit and playing polo. Polo is Posey’s sport of choice these days; she has won two National Championships and was the Women’s College Player of the Year her senior year at the University of Kentucky. During college, she worked at Fasig Tipton and also with Georganne Hale at Pimlico. Posey has been back to the track every year since college because as she loves the Preakness and Pimlico so much! Currently, Posey is teaching polo and working for the United States Polo Association.
Julia Oughton is a native of England who began her career with event horses working for or being a working student of no less than five Olympic riders, including Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips. After adventures in Europe, she came to America and discovered a true passion for racing, first galloping and then training horses on the East coast for 20 years.
Three years ago she changed direction to become Program Developer at the Retired Racehorse Project stating that she is glad to be of service to the wonderful horses who give us their all. Occasionally she transforms into Arabella the Pirate, twisting elaborate balloon creations for children’s parties
Julia loves being a Sunrise Tour Guide because, “it gives me an opportunity to share my love of the greatest game outdoors.” She said 2015 is her favorite Preaknes memory remembering, “the roar of the crowd as American Pharoah made his way up the track.”
Katherine Powder has been involved with horses, primarily Thoroughbreds, for over 30 years. Although originally from Maryland, Katherine and her husband now own and operate a small Thoroughbred breeding/racing stable in southern York County, Pennsylvania. She trail rides, has foxhunted, and retrains former racehorses. Katherine was an equine veterinary assistant for many years.
She said, “I really enjoy how the adults and children who come to Pimlico for Sunrise Tours are so thrilled with the experience. It is truly a rare treat for people to get a behind-the-scenes view and learn about horses, racing, and the history of Pimlico.” Katherine added, “The tours bring so much joy to children and adults.”
Katherine’s favorite Preakness memory is seeing Seattle Slew win. “We were nearly in the front row seat near the finish line,” she explained. “I was just a teen and two friends and I were treated to lunch at the Old Pimlico Hotel and then taken to Pimlico for the entire day of racing. We were all dressed up and allowed to go without adult supervision!”
Elizabeth Scully started riding when she was six years old and quickly discovered that going fast was more fun than looking pretty. From hunter shows to starter trials to fox hunting and pony racing, she has finally settled with racehorses and steeplechase racing. Elizabeth got her first OTTB when she was thirteen and has been with Thoroughbreds ever since; both advocating for OTTBs and exercise riding steeplechasers in the mornings before school. Elizabeth is finishing up her first year at Loyola University MD and has recently been riding out for trainer Ricky Hendriks. She also just started trying her hand at hurdle racing!
“I love giving sunrise tours at Pimlico because so many people have never even seen horses so close up,” she said. “Being around the Preakness horses is exciting for everyone, but my favorite part is seeing how even the simplest things bring joy to the people on the tours.”
Elizabeth has never actually seen a Preakness Stakes live but says, “my favorite memory nonetheless was watching I’ll Have Another narrowly defeat Bodemeister in 2012.”
As a child, Fran Scully prayed every night that she would be short enough to become a flat-track jockey. She has never even been on a race-horse, but she’s the shortest one in her family and now gets to live vicariously through her daughter Elizabeth as she pursues her goals as a jump-jockey. In the “real world,” Fran works at Ladew Topiary Gardens, overseeing historic projects in both the house and gardens. She also supervises seasonal plantings in the gardens.
Fran is the smiling face you will see when you check in at Pimlico each morning for a tour. “I love being a part of the Sunrise Tours because it’s a unique opportunity to actually be a part of the Preakness team in a behind-the-scenes way,” she said. “We are at the track at dark-thirty while the horses are on the track and the response from the people who come make those early mornings worth it.”
Fran admits that she doesn’t actually attend Preakness day but said, “my favorite memories will always be being a part of that rush during Preakness week.”
Anita Slebzak grew up in Anne Arundel County crazy about horses, but never able to have one as a kid. She bought her first horse, a Standardbred mare that was too hot for the hack line at the local stable, when she was 19. They got along fabulously.
Anita started working on the track a year later as a hot walker for Richard Dutrow, Sr., and eventually became a groom. In addition to Dutrow, she has worked for both of the Delps, Dean Gaudet, and some lesser-known but familiar trainers on the Maryland circuit. This wide variety of trainers gave her exposure to different schools of thought on training and horse care.
Anita went on to breed and own a racehorse of her own, unsuccessful on the track but sold as a hunter/jumper. Anita left the track and worked for Ann Merryman for a few years, but the physical labor was too taxing, so she segued into office work at the local small animal vet hospital.
She said, “I like being a tour guide as it gives me the opportunity to share my experience and passion for racing and horses with people who haven’t had much exposure to horse racing. And I love being able to catch sight of some of the top horses in the country as they train in the morning in preparation for the Preakness, or one of the other big races Pimlico presents during Preakness week.” Anita added, “These tours are not just about getting people interested in the sport, these tours actually get them enthusiastic about racing!”
Anita has a hard time choosing just one Preakness memory to highlight but said, “It’s a toss up between being at the finish line with Seattle Slew won, or being there when California Chrome won.” She added, “Outside of those two, my favorite memory on Preakness Day was winning a race with a horse I groomed for Richard Dutrow, Sr. back in the day!”
Along with her family, Donna Sullivan owns Fairfield Farm in Jarrettsville where their homebred show horses participate in many competitions in the Tri-state area. She also breeds Pembroke Welsh Corgies. Donna teaches school part time and can be found at Country Life Farm during foaling season.
Donna really loves Maryland horse racing and enjoys the tours as a way of giving back and helping others appreciate the sport. “I love sharing my love for horses, racing and Old Hill Top with all the people who come to the tours,” she said. Her favorite Preakness memory… “Deputed Testamony trained by Mr. Boniface!
©The Equiery 2019