Baltimore Sun

John Carroll grad Nicole Stall mixes family and racing as husband's horse runs in Preakness

It's not always in the Preakness Stakes, but every year, John Carroll graduate Nicole Stall urges her husband, trainer Al Stall Jr., to find a race for one of his horses on the third Saturday in May.

This year, Departing gave Al Stall his second Preakness mount, finishing sixth in the nine-horse race while his wife and her family were treated to another memorable Preakness Day.

"I used to always come growing up, and we try and run horses on the undercard every year — we just want to come," Nicole Stall said before the race. "About January [every year], I'm like, 'What do we bring to Maryland?' We've just got to get here. We love coming here."

Departing ran from the fourth post with morning-line odds of 11-1. In 2009, the Stall-trained gelding Terrain finished seventh in the Preakness.

But the familiarity of Preakness Day hasn't dampened the excitement for Nicole's family. She said her parents, sister and brother-in-law were among the 20 family members and friends in attendance Saturday.

"It's just a great day." she said. "For me to work in the horse industry and live here, this is probably the one race I really want to win."

Nicole Stall, whose maiden name is Schab, began to fall in love with horses at Bonita Farm, where she worked as she baby-sat for the Boniface family.

Al Stall is based in New Orleans but also races in Kentucky and takes his best horses to Saratoga each summer. That leaves Nicole to spend much of her time caring for their 7-year-old son, Albert, and 5-year-old daughter, Greta, in Louisiana. But she still holds Maryland's horse racing industry in high regard.

"Everyone will say the same thing. All the horsemen say the people that run the track are very kind to horsemen, they're very welcoming," she said. "It's Charm City. Everyone wants to come here. It's way more laid back than the [Kentucky] Derby."

Her family arrived around 3 p.m., and Nicole Stall almost immediately left the posh Triple Crown Room to fetch hot dogs and crab-flavored potato chips for her children.

Even on a day when her Preakness dream was within reach, Stall balanced her love of the races — she had a prerace trip to the barn planned — and her family responsibilities.

"I think the closer you get to a big race like this, the weeks leading up to it are very stressful, but the day of the race, everything is out of our hands, basically," she said. "It's just up to you to enjoy the day and hope the racing gods are looking down on you and everything goes according to plan."