Monkton woman leads early morning, pre-Preakness tours at track

You don't have to be a horse owner, jockey or trainer to take a behind-the-scenes tour at Pimlico Race Course just before the May 19 Preakness. You simply have to get out of bed early.

The chance to walk past stables, see horses working out on the track, visit the jockeys' waiting room or gaze at the Budweiser Clydesdales is free and open to the public. Tours run 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. May 16, 17 and 18 — and participants even get coffee, doughnuts and fruit.

"It's the best-kept secret in Baltimore," said Fran Burns, a Monkton horse owner who is one of 10 being paid to lead the Sunrise Tours. "We take you places you'd never go and you'll see things not many people get a chance to."

Burns is busy reading the history of Pimlico so she's ready for any questions that come her way during the tours that last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

Burns said tour guides include a retired jockey and others who have worked at Pimlico, as well as people like herself who own horses.

She encourages people to bring cameras and take plenty of pictures. Her favorite stop is the empty winner's circle that will be the center of attention at the Preakness.

The Sunrise Tours started in 1990, said Mike Gathagan, vice president of communications for the Maryland Jockey Club. He said 1,020 people took the tour last year.

Denise Carnes, of Monkton, said she not only goes every year, but goes each of the three days.

"You get to see famous trainers and jockeys from all over the country, she said. "The horse racing community is very, very friendly. They'll stop and talk with tour groups."

Carnes first met Burns during a tour and the two are now friends. She recalled taking her daughter to Pimlico tours, then dropping her off at school on time.

Burns became a tour guide three years ago after her friend, racing secretary Georgeanne Hale, asked her to help out.

Burns owns an 11-acre horse-boarding farm in Monkton and has six horses.

She volunteers with Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue in Glenville, Pa., and is heavily involved in saving thoroughbred horses from being slaughtered when their track days are over.

In fact, three of her horses are thoroughbreds that were saved, including the great-grandson of Secretariat, winner of racing's Triple Crownin 1973.

"The horse industry is so important to Maryland. Anything I can do to help racing and the horse industry, I'll do," she said.

No reservations are necessary and tours are on a first-come, first-served basis. For information, email Diana Harbaugh at or call 410-542-9400.

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