Friday morning's torrential rain gave fans and handicappers at Pimlico's Black-Eyed Susan Day a much different race card than they had planned for.
But by the time the showpiece Black-Eyed Susan Stakes ran under a clear blue sky Friday afternoon and the Counting Crows took the stage later that evening, the torrential downpours that Pimlico officials said dumped 2 1/4 inches of rain at the track were a distant memory.
"The track is going to be fast [tomorrow]," Pimlico racing analyst Gabby Gaudet said from her trackside post Friday evening. "It's already getting to that, and we're not expecting any more rain."
The main dirt track hosted all 13 of the day's races, after the six scheduled turf races were moved outside onto the muddy loop for safety reasons. The track was sealed Thursday evening, which packs the dirt and allows water to run farther off what is already a track that drains well.
That drainage was on display Friday, when the track was initially listed as sloppy. By the fifth race, the condition was upgraded to muddy, then good condition by the ninth and fast for the 12th. The track was listed as firm before the rain.
The rain forced the Preakness horses to train on the eve of the race in a torrential rain.
All but one entrant — Pablo Del Monte — galloped as planned Friday morning.
"We just tack-walked him around the shed row in here and jogged a little bit in here," Blake Heap, assistant to Pablo Del Monte trainer Wesley Ward, said. "He's ready and I didn't think that one day of jogging on the track was going to make a big difference. He's ready and everything is perfect."
Some of the entrants relished the rain.
Social Inclusion galloped a mile in the downpour, and owner Ron Sanchez said he took to it well.
"He liked the rain. He trains in rain all the time in Florida," Sanchez said. "He looks great."
The Preakness connections seemed largely unconcerned by the rain, and the dry afternoon meant Saturday's events could likely go off without much issue. The same can't be said for Friday — at least on the track.
The highlight of the day's undercard, the Xpressbet Hall of Fame Jockey Challenge, took the biggest hit Friday. Seven Hall of Fame jockeys, including Calvin Borel, Mike Smith, and Kent Desormeaux, were each scheduled to ride in Races 2, 4, 6, and 8, and earn points in each race to declare a winner.
But those four races were all turf races, and many horses were scratched instead of running on the mud. Twenty-seven horses were scratched from the four Jockey Challenge races, causing some jockeys to lose their mounts and impact the cumulative results.
As a result, wagering on the Xpressbet Hall of Fame Jockey Challenge was canceled. John Velazquez took the $50,000 prize.
But as the afternoon improved and the morning mist burned off, the crowd grew as well. The announced attendance of 34,736 was about 4,000 people fewer than last year's gate, and the handle of $11.37 million was around $1.1 million less despite 39 fewer starters than the same day in 2013.
While walk-up ticket sales may have been affected, some attendees said they were committed regardless of the weather.
Carey Bardzik, 36, of Catonsville, said that having bought a hat wasn't exactly a commitment to attend Friday's event had the rain continued.
"I had already purchased my tickets," she said. "I do know people who seriously considered not coming."