Last night, Joe Albritton could relax and have a good time at the Triple Crown Ball, held at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor Hotel. Last year, "I had too many butterflies in my stomach," he said. That was because last year, he had a horse in the Preakness: Hansel, who happened to win.
The former owner of the Washington Star who has amassed an empire of race horses and television stations, Mr. Albritton and his wife, Barby, were among the 750 guests who attended the glittery gala at the Hyatt. The benefit was expected to raise $150,000 for the locally based RP Foundation Fighting Blindness.
As the Preakness week celebration gains a national reputation, the traditional Preakness party circuit made way for the Triple Crown Ball, now in its fifth year. And the close-knit Maryland racing set has been joined by corporate socialites who love to party for a good cause -- and to bask in the Preakness glow.
"It's becoming a mainstay of the Baltimore social scene, and the social highlight of Preakness week," said Lynda O'Dea, one of the ball's co-chairs.
"The Preakness ball came about naturally," said Harriet L. Finkelstein, the ball's other co-chair. "There are a lot of people coming and wanting to be entertained. It's a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see one another . . . and catch up on what they've been doing. It's become a very prestigious ball."
For Mrs. Finkelstein, the Triple Crown Ball also caps her own personal Triple Crown. Not only is she a national trustee of the RP Foundation, and ball co-chair, but her own horse, Diamond Duo, is running in the Black Eyed-Susan race today at Pimlico. "There's a lot of excitement," Mrs. Finkelstein said before the festivities began at the Hyatt.
CEOs, civic leaders, horse owners and elected officials mingled at the noisy and festive cocktail party which preceded dinner, a program hosted by Jim McKay and a performance by Tony Orlando & Dawn, "direct from the Golden Nugget."
Men rarely strayed from black tuxes for the black tie affair, while women's attire ranged from gravity-resistant party frocks and bounteous bugle beads, pearls and sequins, to down-to-earth staples.
It was a lighthearted evening. Mickey Steinberg, Maryland's lieutenant governor, --ed up to Henry and Dotty Rosenberg and said, "I'm gonna put $2 on your horse." Their horse, Dash for Dotty, is running in the Preakness. "I'm just so pleased to have a horse of this caliber to run in the race," said Mr. Rosenberg, president and CEO of Crown Central Petroleum.
Gordon Gund, chairman of the board of the RP Foundation, had another sport on his mind. The Cleveland Cavaliers, the basketball team he co-owns with his brother, had just won another game against the Boston Celtics in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. "It's one game at a time," said Mr. Gund, who flies to Boston today for tonight's matchup.
Another sportsman who made the Triple Crown Ball but will miss the Preakness is Brooks Robinson. He'll be in Chicago, covering the O's series against the White Sox. In loyalty to Mr. Rosenberg, Brooksie said he should bet on Dash for Dotty. But, "I'm really going to vote for Lil E. Tee. [Jockey] Pat Day's gonna do it again."
Frank and Martha Hopkins used to toss an annual Preakness party at their Elberton Hill Farm. But when it conflicted with the Triple Crown Ball, they decided to go to the ball instead.
"We're party people. You invite us and we'll be there," Mrs. Hopkins said.
With some wistfulness she added, "I really like the home parties better. I enjoy going to the track [-run] parties, too, very much. Of course there are a lot of business people there. At the home parties, you knew practically everybody."
Of the numerous home parties that used to take place during Preakness week, only one remains. Last night, 210 guests were expected to attend the 30th annual Preakness party held by Joe and Mary Jo Pons on Country Life Farm.