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Pimlico gets Preakness warmup on Derby Day

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The screams of joy from Monica Lawler could be heard across the cavernous clubhouse at Pimlico shortly after the Kentucky Derby ended Saturday.

She and her father, Bob Lawler, put money on No. 19, I'll Have Another, who had just won the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Monica bet $6 on the Kentucky-bred horse to finish first, second or third. She picked the horse based solely on its name and quickly headed to the teller to collect $55 in winnings. Her father, who tried a more complex bet involving other horses, didn't take home a dime.

It was truly a family affair at the Northwest Baltimore track, as hundreds gathered to watch the local races and live musical performances in the infield, as well as the Derby broadcast.

"It's kind of like a build-up for the Preakness," Bob Lawler said of the 11 races Saturday at Pimlico.

The Lawlers, who were visiting Baltimore for the day, planned to put Monica's winnings toward a nice family dinner. But perhaps not drinks. By the time the final race came to an end, Monica had said, "I'll have another," five times, she said.

"I've had a great time," said Monica, a first-time horse bettor from Cape May, N.J. She was still screaming as the cashier passed her winnings under the metal bars at the betting window.

The crowd at Pimlico was loaded with families. Parents drank beer with their adult children and bought betting tickets for the younger ones.

"We're hanging out with our parents," said Steve Kehl, 16, as he clutched a betting slip.

Just before the Derby, Kehl and friend Davy Prevas, 16, were sitting in the stands by themselves, trying to identify the horses in spite of the giant infield screen's poor resolution. They'd both chosen El Padrino — because it was Cinco de Mayo — to win the race at Churchill Downs.

The teens were having a good time, though they said the Pimlico crowd for the Derby Day races were nothing compared to the droves that come out for the Preakness.

"It's not even close to being as big as Preakness," said Prevas. "But it's still fun."

Maureen Green, who lives in Baltimore's Ten Hills community, and Kelley Bradshaw of Perry Hall were placing bets for family members who hadn't come to Pimlico. They joked that they were disappointed in their children and other Baltimore-area residents who missed the live races.

"Those other losers stayed home," laughed Bradshaw, as she and Green sat with others at a picnic table, going over tip sheets.

"It's a pilgrimage. This is Baltimore. More and more people need to come out here," said Green. "Watching the Derby is all about leading up to the Preakness. It's about watching who will be coming here, which horses."

She added, "There's nothing better than hearing those hoofbeats coming across the finish line. We come here every year. I have not missed a Preakness in 30 years."

They will be back in two weeks, they said. And they won't have to place bets for family members, because everyone will be present: They will be sitting in the same grandstand seats they have had for years, surrounded by at least 25 relatives.

And they'll have another chance to bet on I'll Have Another, who is headed to Pimlico.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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