One day, two spectacles 185 miles apart [Commentary]

Hopefully many of you got to watch the Belmont Stakes on television last Saturday, if you weren't there in person.

Once again, we saw how difficult it is to win American Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, but a little more about that later.


I'm sure a few of you got also to see a spectacle of our own in Bel Air that same Saturday morning, when several hundred people waited in a long line outside the armory to be interviewed for the latest "House of Cards" casting call.

I'll go out on a limb and say there were way more than 1,000 who went through the line, although at this writing I don't have any official number from the casting agency.

What I do know is I haven't seen a line like this around these parts since the government surplus cheese giveaways out at Campus Hills in the early 1980s.

Those in line Saturday were for the most part fashionably dressed and very upbeat, despite the prospect of knowing it would be hours before they got inside.

It was interesting to learn how people found out about Saturday's casting call. Some who were from Harford County said they saw the five-inch blurb in the previous Wednesday's paper or on one of our websites. Many others who came from out of town – several whom I talked with from Northern Virginia for instance – said they found out via Facebook posts by friends. That's not so surprising, considering our own Bel Air Bel Air Facebook page's metrics showed the story being served to over 45,000.

There have been casting calls for extras for "House of Cards" held at the armory before, but nothing like Saturday's in terms of volume. I knew something big was happening when I pulled into our parking lot a little after 9 a.m. — an hour before the doors were to open — and saw the line along Lee Street already was approaching the Har-Co Credit Union lot.

As I looked around the hedges in front of our building for my Saturday Wall Street Journal, there was a steady procession of well dressed men and women, mostly young men and women, coming up the sidewalk from who knows where, headed to the armory.

As much out of curiosity as any sense that this was news, I decided to follow one group to find out what motivates someone to get up early on Saturday, dress up and then head in to downtown Bel Air to stand in line in hopes of landing a bit part as an extra and maybe getting 10 or 20 seconds in one episode of a TV series?

Certainly not fortune. One person who did land a role in Season I, Keith Ringgold, of Abingdon, said he was paid $90 to $100 a day - 12 to 16 hour days.

Another, Christa Ham, of Bel Air, said she got minimum wage and never made the final cut of the show, when she also was picked as an extra for Season I.

And yet, both said they would do it again. As Christa explained, you might be standing around some day when one of the speaking players doesn't show up for work and, bam, you're on the way to something bigger. Perhaps.

On to the big stage in the Big Apple where, for the 36th time since 1978, a 3-year-old thoroughbred has failed to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in the same year.

About the only thing that disappointed me about Saturday's outcome was the post-race whining from California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn about how horses that don't run in the first two legs shouldn't be allowed in the Belmont. (He has since apologized for his intemperate remarks.)

OK, Steve, and the three races are too close together, and the mile and a half of the Belmont is too long and the track surfaces are different and the medication rules aren't the same from state-to-state and what else do you want to complain about?


The irony of California Chrome's loss Saturday was that it came at the hands of Tonalist, a horse who didn't run in the Derby or Preakness and is owned by Thomas M. Evans Jr. whose father's Pleasant Colony lost the Belmont and the Triple Crown under similar circumstances in 1981.

I was at Belmont Park for that race, and standing in the paddock I pretty much wrote Pleasant Colony off; he looked washed out and was acting up and then there was that ugly rash on his rump. But the colt's trainer, Johnny Campo, was confident to the point of being boastful, saying at one point if his horse got beat, "I'll eat my cigar." (I don't believe he did.)

Pleasant Colony, at 4-5 odds, finished third that day, behind the forgettable Summing and Highland Blade, who fought a furious stretch duel before the winner prevailed by a nose. Summing, incidentally, did not run in either the Derby or the Preakness because trainer Luis Barrera didn't think he was good enough until he won a couple of other mid-grade stakes, including the Pennsylvania Derby, leading up to the Belmont.

I've been back to the Belmont a couple of times since, including with the crown on the line in 1989 (Easy Goer finally beating Sunday Silence), and it's easy to see why the race is called "The Test of the Champion."

And, I've also come to understand why the Triple Crown is so tough to win, why the line of the horses who haven't won it is a long one, too, and why there's always talk about changing the rules following another near miss. Frankly, no bit players will get into this show.