It was raining Saturday evening, but that didn't dampen the mood or the turn out at Hampstead's Off Track Betting location, or OTB, tucked into the end of the building hosting Greenmount Station Restaurant.
If anything, it added to the realism: The OTB and one room of the restaurant were packed with people there to watch the 144th Kentucky Derby one of dozens of large flat screen TVs, and it had been in Churchill Downs in Kentucky too.
"I think we are at 90 people between this room and the one right there," said Chris Richards, owner of Greenmount Station. "This is about the busiest its been."
Greenmount Station serves food and drink at the OTB, and Greenmount Station customers are free to walk over and place a bet, but the OTB itself is operated by the Maryland Jockey Club. When it opened in January, the Hampstead OTB marked the sixth such location in the state, along with Boonsboro, Horseshoe Casino, Perryville, Timonium and Riverboat Restaurant in Colonial Beach, Virginia, which counts as Maryland because it's over the Potomac; places other than race tracks where people can watch horse racing on live television and place bets.
"It's about time that this came to Hampstead so we don't have to go all the way to Timonium," said Denise Hansbrough, of Hampstead. "It's nice that it's in this area and it's a nice location, especially with Greenmount being a restaurant."
"I tell you what: the best thing to happen to Hampstead in a long time," added Jeff Palmer, another longtime Hampstead resident. He noted that that there had been some initial concern about the OTB, both with regards to parking and neighboring business as well as the character of a gambling business in town, but that these provide unjustified.
"It's a pleasant place you can bring your family," Palmer said.
By 6:45 p.m., people were starting to place their final bets on the race that was expected to start at 6:50 p.m.
"Justify is the favorite," said OTB manager Jackie Savoye, when asked what the people we thinking. "But it's sloppy. Get some long shots in there, you never know."
Hansbrough wasn't worried about her bet.
"Justify, number seven," she said. "He runs in the rain and he does his best in the rain."
And then it was time, the jockeys in their Lycra trotting their thoroughbreds into the gate, the moment of anticipation, and then they were off — a spray of wet mud in the air as the equine mass sprinted out on to the track.
And when it was over, it was in fact Justify that had taken first.
"He's undefeated," Savoye said, noting that it would be interesting to see how the horse would run at the Maryland Preakness Stakes in two weeks on May 19.
Savoye had another reason to be happy. In addition to working as the OTB manager, she also works as a horse trainer at a Maryland race track
"We did a pool. We pick out of a hat and I got Justify," she said. "So, I get the pool money!"