They were special guests at the Pimlico Special, eight troubled kids from the Pittsburgh area who have found a home with "Mr. Mel."
From the stakes barn, to the jockeys' quarters to a visit to the track farrier, teen-aged boys being rewarded for their conduct at the Mel Blount Youth Home received the grand tour yesterday.
They even had a race, the seventh on the card, named in their honor, thanks to the efforts of the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"I like all of this. It's a new experience," said Davon, 13. "I've never even been out of town."
Jerome, 14, said: "I liked the blacksmith, how they turn metal into different shapes. But everything is real interesting."
Horses are an integral part of the 246-acre farm that Blount has turned into a home for mostly inner-city youths with serious family and/or personal problems.
Blount has 15 horses on the farm, including eight thoroughbreds. One, a 2-year-old, is in training at Thistledown near Cleveland.
The children take care of the horses, ride them, feed them and watch them graze. So, a trip to Pimlico was an extension of their experiences on the farm.
"We picked the best kids we had to come here," said Blount, a member of four Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champions. "They are really working hard, so this is a bonus for them.
"We wanted to bring them here to see it on a top level. They can see firsthand what employment options they might have with horses."
The trip was arranged through the American Championship Racing Series, of which the Special is one segment. The ACRS has cited Blount's commitment to the kids and the equine care that is an integral part of his work.
Rider Charles Fenwick gave them jockey's goggles and led a lively tour that included 2-pound saddles, racing silks and questions and answers.
Steward Clinton Pitts explained that his group represents the "police" of the track, then showed a film of a nasty spill in a previous race and explained careless riding.
Then, it was downtown for a tour of the National Aquarium and back to Pimlico for the race named in their honor and the Special.
"We're fortunate. We've had good kids come to this program," said Blount, who operates a similar home in his home state of Georgia. "It's set up in a rural area, so it takes them a couple weeks to adjust."
Davon, who has been with Blount only a month, particularly liked the visit to some of the nation's top horses.
"That was good," he said. "Best Pal. That's the one I'm going for."