NEW FREEDOM, Pa. -- It might be expected that excitement would be building as never before in this tiny town that's within hollering distance of the Maryland line. But the mayor sets the record straight; he says no. It's all about a horse race and to see if a colt bred near here can bring another measure of pleasure to its birthplace.
This is where Lil E. Tee first drew a breath, learned to walk and then run -- before he ran off with the most famous race in America, the Kentucky Derby. Now on Saturday, Lil E. Tee will be back in home territory when he endeavors to follow up with another auspicious victory in the Preakness at Pimlico. A sign on the front of the New Freedom Farm & Supply store, which sells horse feed and seed, offers a testimonial to hometown pride:
"Lil E. Tee Ate Here"
TC Dr. William Solomon, the veterinarian who owns Pine Oak Farm and helped bring Lil E. Tee into the world in 1989, is expected to be in attendance at the Preakness with family, friends and business associates to cheer for a spirited champion who represents the longest of long shots, both on the odds he faced as a sick foal and then, three years later, on the parade to the post at Churchill Downs.
It's significant to add that Pine Oak also bred the 1989 Hambletonian winner, Park Avenue Joe. So, the same stable can come front and center to take a mighty bow for what is believed to be an unprecedented achievement -- contributing a Kentucky Derby and Hambletonian winner to racing, specifically kings of the thoroughbred and standardbred worlds. Maybe it has something to do with the grass underfoot or the water that gushes from the ground of York County but don't discount the magic touch of Dr. Solomon.
Pine Oak is a major-league venture with five different farms tied into the operation. Two dominant stallions stand at Pine Oak, namely TV Yankee, a trotter; and Tyler's Mark, a pacer. Plus, a thoroughbred, Sportin' Life, is newly acquired to help propagate offspring that'll be future Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Hambletonian aspirants.
There's some minor debate, certainly nothing approaching a cause celebre, about where Lil E. Tee was actually bred. Was it in New Freedom or Shrewsbury? Mayor Arlington Ernst says he can't personally attest to any evidence of enthusiasm. "Not in New Freedom," he clarified. "I haven't seen or heard of any. I read about the horse in the newspaper, the York Dispatch."
But the mayor, interested in truth and accuracy, says bragging rights belong to New Freedom's neighbor, Shrewsbury Township. And John O'Keefe, an elected supervisor in Shrewsbury, contends Ernst is geographically correct but believes all four boroughs in the township, including Shrewsbury, New Freedom, Railroad and Glen Rock, can share the pride.
"People around here [and horses, too] are not always sure where they live," says O'Keefe. "It can get complicated. The way I determine is to ask them where the tax collector comes from. That's an absolute way of finding out. Usually you identify your address by what post office services you, the area nearest to it."
Lil E. Tee, before he was old enough to read, or cash checks, got his mail marked New Freedom RD. It might all become a moot point with the passing of time, unless New Freedom or Shrewsbury want to put up a billboard notifying the passing world that this is where the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and possibly the Preakness, of 1992 was bred.
Until Lil E. Tee came along, the state of Pennsylvania couldn't claim a Derby champion. Not the same for the Preakness, which got five of its early title holders, from 1879 until 1910 -- Harold, Saunterer, Montague, Bryn Mawr and Layminster -- from Pennsylvania. But now it has been a wait of 82 years for another Pennsylvania-bred, Lil E. Tee, to offer a serious challenge.
There was scant racing attention drawn to New Freedom/Shrewsbury until Lil E. Tee scored so impressively in the Derby. One of New Freedom's most prominent sons, Phil Itzoe, traveling secretary of the Baltimore Orioles, was elated to hear of Lil E. Tee's point-of-origination. "I was stunned, but deeply pleased, when I heard it," he said. "My mother told me. You don't expect a horse from New Freedom or Shrewsbury to grow up and win the Derby."
It's usually a Kentucky-bred, the land of the blue grass, where there's a rich lime content in the soil and a tradition of producing fast horses, that wins the classics. Now Pennsylvania, either New Freedom or is it Shrewsbury, comes charging to the fore. All because of Lil E. Tee.