first published in the May 2022 Equiery

After a two-year hiatus, the Sunrise Tours at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore are back! Visitors get a chance to go behind the scenes at the second oldest racetrack in the United States. The tours include visits with trainers, grooms, jockeys and more. And the guides have a wealth of experience that make every tour unique and unforgettable.

Tours run Tuesday through Friday during Preakness week, May 17 – May 20, from 6:00am – 9:00am. It is highly recommended that fans arrive early to watch the horses, including the Preakness Stakes contenders, workout on the track.

Meet This Year’s Sunrise Tour Guides

Wendy Chapin Albert of Ruxton has been a horse lover throughout her entire life having grown up where many “backyard horses” were within walking distance from her home. She received her first pony, Tangerine, when she was 12 years old. As a Green Spring Pony Club member, she enjoyed fox hunting, eventing and showing her pony, and later her horse. Wendy was a member of the Sweet Briar College’s IHSA team and loved traveling to shows. Her husband’s family has had racehorses for several generations, and she now enjoys watching their own foals grow, train, and start careers at the track.

The part Wendy likes best about Sunrise Tours is introducing people to Pimlico and taking guests to the Stakes Barn and the Winner’s Circle. “Our historic track, cupola, and artistic treasures are always special to point out,” Wendy explains.

Fran Burns is the Head Tour Guide for the Sunrise Tours. She can be best described as a Thoroughbred advocate. Fran owns Boxwood Farm, a boarding barn mostly for retired Off-The-Track-Thoroughbreds. The average age of Boxwood’s equine residents is 20!

Fran was one of the cofounders of the Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series and is on the Board of Directors of The Maryland State Fair. She also hosts back stretch tours at Timonium Race Track during the Fair.

Growing up on her family farm in Cockeysville she rode and showed her pony and horses in area horse shows. More recently, she assists with Canter for the Cause at Pimlico and volunteers with MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Warwick. Her free time is spent volunteering with local animal charities as well as at Foxhall Equine Rehab Clinic in Fallston. “The best part of tours for me is the kids,” Fran said. “To see their faces light up when they get to touch a horse for the very first time is magic.” Fran believes kids are the future of horse racing.

Erika Taylor Crowl of Street grew up riding with Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club. When she was 15 years old, she started hot walking horses at Pimlico on the weekends for one of her pony club instructors. 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.

After finishing college, Erika started working for the late Tom Voss, which is when she began riding in steeplechase races and thanks to FEGENTRI, an international racing organization, has been able to travel the world riding flat races while representing the United States. Currently, Erika rides for Michael Merryman in the mornings at Pimlico, all while working full-time for the University of Maryland Extension. “On my down time, I enjoy foxhunting 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’s rich racing history with others who may know little about horses in general and watching their faces light up with excitement when they come to the backside,” she explained.

Anna Epperly of New Freedom, Pennsylvania, is a lifelong fan of horse racing and often helps out on the backstretch at Pimlico during the Preakness meet. “As a lifelong fan of Pimlico and its history, I always make it a point to ask the trainers that ship in for Preakness week how they like the track,” she said. “Everyone has always told me the same thing… that Pimlico is the most welcoming track and accommodating of the Triple Crown races.”

Anna currently owns the off-the-track Thoroughbred That’s Epic, who ran in Maryland under trainers Rodney Jenkins and Kieron Magee.

“I’ve been attending the Sunrise Tours for the last 20 years,” Anna said. “Pimlico, their staff, and the horsemen and horsewomen are always warm, welcoming, and make you feel a part of the action. Having the privilege to see these equine athletes work in the morning is a sight to behold. There’s just something special about the track in the morning.”

Anna added, “I’m always amazed at how welcoming all of the trainers are, from D. Wayne Lukas to Doug O’Neil – they go out of their way to talk to those on the tour and explain things and the grooms allow us to watch them work.”

Justine Howell is a third generation racing professional who owns a boutique breeding operation. Her focus is mainly on commercial sales, but she also retains some Thoroughbreds from her own racing stable.

In addition to racing, she is also very passionate about post racing Thoroughbred retirement. Justine sits on the boards of both Canter PA as well as Canter USA and has competed at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover every year since 2014.

This is Justine’s first year as a tour guide and she is looking forward to sharing her passion with the public!

From walking horses to riding them, from grooming them to owning them, Bobby Lillis has done it all. “Life on the racetrack is all I know,” Bobby said. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan, and has worked with horses at tracks for over 50 years.

Bobby recently retired as the Executive Director of the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation (a 501(c)(3) charity that provides essential needs to stable employees and farm workers), a position he had held since 1998.

What Bobby likes about Sunrise Tours is that he gets to be part of the team that helps to teach tour guests that Thoroughbreds are more than just horses who love to run. He explains that they are also very compassionate animals and we do get attached to them. Bobby said, “There are many joys of working with Thoroughbreds and understanding their passionate characters. They are part of the family and are treated as such.”

Bobby also likes talking with the crowds, answering questions and seeing the kids faces light up with smiles when he hands them a pair of jockey goggles to wear and take home.

Betty McCue’s love for Thoroughbreds has been there her entire life. She was raised in Warrenton, Virginia, with a riding career full of Thoroughbreds! Whether it be racing, steeplechasing, breeding, or horse showing, Betty was there. She is now a retired second-grade teacher from Timonium Elementary and runs a stable full of kids, horses and ponies in Phoenix. Her students at EHM Stables can be found fox hunting, horse showing, pony racing, trail riding, swimming with the horses and much more. Betty is married to track photographer Jim McCue.

Betty says, “I am looking forward to meeting lots of happy people at the tours.”

Sabrina Moore is the owner and manager of GreenMount Farm, a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Reisterstown. There Sabrina foals and raises racehorses including the 2021 Horse of the Year, Knicks Go. Sabrina is a graduate of Institute of Notre Dame of Baltimore.

Sabrina’s unique ability to combine her love for the city and racehorses makes her a great addition for the Sunrise Tours. Sabrina has been attending Preakness since she was 14, and it’s her favorite race. She is looking forward to sharing her love of horseracing and introducing newcomers to the backside of Pimlico.

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, Posey 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 the Director of the My Lady’s Manor Steeplechase Races and assisting with the National Steeplechase Association social media accounts.

Julia Oughton is a native of Great Britain and grew up around horses. She was a working student for British Eventing Olympic medalists Jane Holderness Roddam and Jennie Lorriston Clarke. Julia took her British Horse Society and National Pony Society exams before taking a position with HRH The Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips. She spent a year as a working student of classical dressage in Vienna, Austria, before landing in the United States and discovering a deep love of racing.

Julia spent 17 years training racehorses at east coast tracks and then joined Maryland Horse Council member the Retired Racehorse Project in 2017 where she holds the position of Development Manager. Julia promotes and contributes to the growth of RRP and horses in careers after racing.

Julia believes that children are the future. Each year she loves to see the “rapt little faces” as they watch the horses enjoy a post exercise bath.

Anita Slebzak of Sparks does not come from a “horsey” family. She says, “I was just a horse crazy little girl who hung around the local stables and hopped at any opportunity to ride whenever I could.” At one point, a girl she had been friends with started on the racetrack and asked if she would be interested in a job hot walking. Anita jumped at the chance, and then worked for various trainers at both small and large stables over the course of 25 years. The most well known trainers she worked for were Dickie Dutrow, Tony Dutrow, Dick Delp, and Ann Merryman (who is now her sister-in-law).

Anita learned a great deal about taking care of horses from these very diverse trainers stating, “I always cared most about a horse’s personality and how they were to work with and their work ethic above their actual talent. Some of my favorite horses were really just cheap claimers, but for one reason or another they stole my heart.”

Anita is now the sole caretaker of her neighbor’s retired roping Quarter Horses and works for a small animal veterinarian. She also trains her Border Collies for competition in dog agility. Anita looks forward to doing the tours every year, and is extremely excited to get back to it this year!

Many know April Smith of Ruxton as the greatest fan of Pimlico and the Preakness! “April knows more history about Pimlico than anyone we know,” said fellow tour guide Fran Burns. April proudly wears and passes out Pimlico pins to one and all during Preakness week.

For over 25 years, April has been a Baltimore tour guide and works for the Baltimore National Heritage Area. A horse owner and a Thoroughbred racing fan, Sunrise Tours have always been her favorite tours to give. She is also the co-administrator of the Friends of Pimlico Facebook page and is active in animal rescue, ballet, ballroom dancing and historic preservation.

Donna Sullivan’s love of horses takes her from foaling babies to horse showing and hauling horses for others. Donna and her family own a horse farm in Jarrettsville where she has a few broodmares and enjoys raising babies to train and show. Her horses have competed at many of the major horse shows up and down the east coast.

Even though she is retired now, Donna has assisted with foaling for some major Thoroughbred breeding farms in Maryland. She loves children and spends her free time raising Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Donna enjoys the Sunrise Tours as they allow her to meet people and educate them about racing and the history of Old Hilltop.

For more on Preakness week festivities, click here: