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From all outward appearances, Eric Blind was composed and had the presence of a man in charge. He was. The responsibility of starting the Preakness was his alone. The button that set off the electrical response, which in turn opened the gate, was in his hand.

The pressure was there. It was his first starting assignment of a major race, the 1980 Preakness, part of the Triple Crown. He had previously started the Delaware Handicap but there was indeed a difference.

"I had a sportswriter on one of the bottom steps of the starter's stand," said Blind. "He had been there for a lot of years with my uncle, Eddie, who started the Preakness 37 times. That day meant more to me than anything in the world. I wanted to do everything right.

"When the field went out of the gate, on its way, I looked up and whispered, 'Thank you.' I don't think anyone knew but my knees buckled. It was so important to get that first Preakness behind me."

Blind had a long apprenticeship before he climbed the starter's stand at Pimlico Race Course. His first job was at Marlboro in 1965 and he still remembers the horse that won. It was Lynn's Hope, a speedster, owned by Ed Swift. And then there was a time, too, when he was the starter in a race of 19 mules at a Chamber of Commerce party in Columbia, S.C.

Now Eric Blind, ever the professional, awaits another Preakness.

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