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PRELUDE TO PREAKNESS Hammer meets the horsey set


The way Hammer rolled into and out of Pimlico Race Course yesterday afternoon, it seemed he was too legit to sit.

Sit still, that is. Let's face it, there probably aren't enough hours in the day for Hammer to be America's favorite rapper/thoroughbred owner/raconteur/bon vivant.

And Hammer barely had one of them to spend with about 2,000 members of city drill teams and drum majorette corps, who had been temporarily bounced from tomorrow's Preakness Parade but were reinstated after a vigorous protest.

But when a mogul has just a few minutes to share with his public, those times are savored.

"Oh gosh, I felt like I wanted to faint. You don't know how much I look up to him," said Trenita Hill, a 17-year-old Mervo Tech student, who shared a hug with his Hammerness during his 15-minute meeting with about 50 of the top drill and majorette members.

Hammer (no more M.C., please) wasn't available for media questions, making him, perhaps, too legit to quip.

And he canceled his scheduled concert at the Baltimore Arena last night, even as opening acts Jodeci and Boyz II Men were in town waiting to appear. Officials at Centre Management referred all questions on the concert to Hammer's public relations firm.

"The concert was canceled due to circumstances beyond our control. That's all I'm going to say," said a Hammer spokesman from New York.

Nonetheless, Hammer was a striking, if demure, presence on the Pimlico scene. After all, as one of the owners of Dance Floor, a third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and an entrant in Saturday's Preakness, the former Stanley K. Burrell isn't about dissing the other owners in the field.

In other words, Hammer doesn't want to hurt 'em, but rather wants to be one of them. Toward that end, the videos that heralded his arrival in the Pimlico Sports Palace late yesterday afternoon were a combination of music and racing highlights.

Finally, after about 15 minutes of what was described as "chill time," it was Hammer time.

Hammer, clad in a plum-colored suit with matching suspenders and no shirt, strode in, with an entourage of about 20, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who jokingly complained that no one ever screamed for his entrance.

Note to the mayor: maybe it's because you insist on wearing shirts with your suits.

At any rate, Hammer pressed the flesh indoors with a small gathering, while three of his entourage handed out autographed pictures, then he emerged from a ramp to the screams of a couple of thousand, who serenaded him with a few choruses of "Too Legit to Quit."

Ever the compliant superstar, Hammer returned their love with those famous hand signals that no one else can get straight. Then, there was a jacket presentation, a proclamation making Hammer an honorary Baltimorean, a few words of encouragement and a wave goodbye.

Total Hammer time: 33 minutes.

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