It's about 48 hours to post time, and Brenda Handleman is already facing a crisis: a truck hauling 600 pounds of crab meat is missing.
Handleman, general manager for Harry M. Stevens Inc. concessions at Pimlico, has everything else in place for the thousands of crab cakes that will be served Preakness day. But her seafood supplier is not sure where their truck is.
"They will come through. They will find that truck. If they don't I'll kill them," says Handleman, looking surprisingly calm in a bright yellow ensemble in a windowless office in the basement of the race track.
Handleman and hundreds of other workers, officials and horseman are putting on the final push today in preparation for tomorrow's big race. For most of them, today will be busier than the race itself.
And, despite the crab mystery, they say they are ready.
In the world of special events, the Preakness ranks near the top. About 90,000 people will attend. That outdraws most Super Bowls, which usually show attendances of about 75,000, depending upon where they are played. A handful of college football stadiums regularly top 100,000, but the games don't last as long.
The Kentucky Derby packs in 135,000. The Indianapolis 500 -- possibly the king of all American special events -- brings in 500,000.
But as Pimlico general manager James P. Mango points out, a Preakness features complexities unique among sporting events. More than $7 million will have to be collected, calculated, and re-distributed in wagers, for example. And unlike football fans, Preakness attendees tend to move around a lot, betting, eating and drinking, presenting special security concerns.
And the fans start arriving at 4 a.m., seven hours before the first horse starts running and nearly 14 hours before the big race.
"When I'm here at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, driving around in a golf cart, all I ask from God is to get through the day without any problems," Mango said. He plans to work through the night today, and has ordered his staff to begin reporting at 3:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Officials are working off a 41-page schedule that began with a meeting with ABC officials on April 15 and included a day-by-day, hour-by-hour breakdown of activities. Buildings had to be painted, equipment tested, workers hired and trained, and community concerns addressed.
Today's scheduled activities begin with the 3:30 a.m. arrival of WJZ-TV's vans at the stakes barn, and ends with the same van crossing into the infield 15 hours later to be in position for race day. In between, food will have to be prepared, restrooms stocked, cardboard trash cans placed, yellow mums planted in the winner's circle, first-aid tents erected on the infield, sewer lines flushed, and hundreds of other final details put into place.
Come tomorrow, some 1,100 police and security workers -- one for every 75 fans -- will take their places. They will join 1,000 pari-mutuel clerks, 450 souvenir and parking lot attendants, 700 vendors, cooks and maintenance workers, 25 emergency medical technicians, 22 nurses, and eight doctors.
"I used to get nervous. But we have a system in place and good employees," Mango said. "I think it will be a safe and enjoyable day for everyone."
Just in case, the track's head nurse, Imogene Hicks, planned to xTC spend today distributing a few thousand bandages, ice packs, aspirin and other necessities to the four first-aid stations in the infield.
Preakness day generally produces cuts and bruises, upset stomachs and heat strokes. There is also an occasional heart attack or fracture, although trauma injuries and fights have fallen way off since glass was banned from the infield, she said.
"We did have a woman who almost had a baby here. We got her out in time," she said. Eight ambulances and three fire department engine units will be on hand.
Horse trainers say they will try to keep today like most other days, putting the horses through their usual exercises and feeding regimens.
"Horses are really creatures of habit, and they don't like changes in their routines," said Shelley Riley, trainer of Casual Lies.
In his worst nightmare, or at least for this week, Bill Weber can see the ABC television coverage of the Preakness running smoothly until the very end, where one mistake can ruin a previously flawless telecast.
"What I'm deathly afraid of is going to the wrong horse," said Weber, who will direct ABC's coverage from Pimlico. "That would be the worst possible thing that could happen."
Nothing like that has happened in Weber's three years of calling the camera shots for the network's Triple Crown coverage, mostly because they take every possible precaution to prepare, with production and technical meetings from as far back as six months ago to pre-race run-throughs.
"Still, you have no control over the things that happen," said Weber, who will head the telecast with producer Curt Gowdy Jr. "There's no guarantee. Everything is a challenge."
Most of the more than 100 ABC staffers on hand for the Preakness arrived Sunday, and six production and office trailers dot the landscape between the Pimlico grandstand and the stables.
Inside, above and around the track, ABC will go with 18 cameras, positioned around the course, in the infield, in the Goodyear blimp and in the stable area.
In deference to the horses, Weber said, the hand held cameras in the barn area will be without cables. Otherwise, the animals might mistake them for snakes.
The crew will do a run-through today, filming the last three races on the card as if they were tomorrow's ninth race, rehearsing all of the actual race coverage as well as the post-race interviews and the isolation shots on the three horses that Gowdy thinks will make the best stories.
Like Weber and his crew, Handleman, with Harry M. Stevens, said "We've been moving all week and we will put the finishing touches on [today]".
By the end of the last race tomorrow, she figures her crew will have served 30,000 hot dogs, 35,000 Black-Eyed Susans, 30,000 soft drinks, 30,000 beers, 10,000 hamburgers, not to mention pizza, chicken, and, assuming the truck shows up, crab cakes.
"Right now it's giving me an ulcer," she said yesterday.