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Baltimore's Big Horse Race


Professional sports have become big business in the America of the 1990s. And no sports day means more to the economies of Baltimore and Maryland than the annual running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. It is the showcase for this state's $1 billion-a-year horse-racing industry. And it is the one day every year when we get to show off the excitement and beauty of Pimlico and the metropolitan area.

This year's Preakness Celebration festivities have eclipsed prior shindigs in the breadth of the entertainment and statewide nature of the events. For instance, not only is Maryland hosting the Preakness tomorrow, it is also sponsoring the Olympic trials for whitewater slalom racing north of Bloomington on the Savage River in Garrett County and the largest East Coast bluefish tournament on the Chesapeake Bay.

The biggest event, though, is the Preakness. This is the 117th running of the race for the highly prized Woodlawn Vase. It is distinctive among the three events that make up racing's Triple Crown for 3-year-old thoroughbreds. It is shorter than the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont Stakes. And the turns at Pimlico are far tighter than at Churchill Downs or Belmont Park. With the biggest field in years (14 starters), half of whom did not run in the Derby on May 2, this figures to be a wide-open race. It is a horse-player's delight.

Those flocking to Pimlico had better like crowds. The usual 90,000 fans are expected, most of them jamming the infield with picnic hampers. The live music and entertainment won't stop from the time the gates open at 8:30 a.m.

This region's thoroughbred racing industry is experiencing difficult times. The owners of Pimlico are openly feuding in court. Trainers and breeders are concerned about declining interest among racetrack fans. Yet it is events such as the Preakness that can pump new life into horse racing. There is no better advertisement for this centuries-old sport than Saturday's mile and 3-16th charge around Old Hilltop. On this day, racing is still king in Maryland.

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