Before Baltimore became a renaissance city, at a time when the harbor had more debris floating about than could be found in a junkyard and wandering men down on their luck used doorways to sleep off the results of the night before, there was a magnificent mayor named Thomas D'Alesandro Jr.
He came from a prideful neighborhood, Little Italy, and never left because he didn't want anyone to think he wanted to get above his raising.
The Baltimore mayor had heard much about what was going on in Pittsburgh, the largest of the smoke-stack metropolises, that was then in the throes of making itself over. Cleaning up its act, so to speak. D'Alesandro, interested in seeing for himself, went off on an inspection trip across the Alleghenies to view what was happening there.
Upon returning, he praised Pittsburgh for what it had been able to do in bringing about such dramatic self-improvement, including creation of the Golden Triangle. The pertinent question asked of D'Alesandro was: Could Baltimore do the same?
The mayor, usually ebullient, down-played his answer, saying, "I doubt it. After all, Pittsburgh has the Mellons. And all we got around here are watermelons."
It was a memorable reference, vintage D'Alesandro, that has lived with the passing decades and comes joyously to mind today as one of the same philanthropic Mellons arrives, not in Pittsburgh, but on a sporting mission to Baltimore.
He's coming here to be with Sea Hero, a horse endeavoring to pick up the Preakness prize on Saturday and make it 2-for-2 in racing's coveted trilogy, the Triple Crown. Mellon, the venerable owner of Rokeby Stable, has been here before with Preakness entrants but never won. This time, it will be different.
Sea Hero was easily the best of 19 participants (not all can be called contenders) and came out of the Kentucky Derby looking fresher than a newly plowed field in springtime. After the 1 1/4 -mile race he appeared strong enough to keep running, on to Baltimore if need be.
Jockey Jerry Bailey didn't ask Sea Hero to give any more than was needed. He didn't use up the colt in winning by 2 1/2 lengths over the favored Prairie Bayou. Sea Hero has a lot left -- enough to win the Preakness and certainly the longer Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. His breeding suggests he's capable of handling distance so the Belmont is made to order.
Now the question is will he be able to run on a different surface Baltimore, on a track where the turns are closer together but certainly not the physical problem they are made out to be, especially with the field promising to be only about half the size of the Derby? This means the horses won't be getting in one another's way and tying up traffic.
For Mellon, who won the Derby in his fourth try, it was an immensely popular victory. He's a man who has given much more to the sport, going back to a time when a high percentage of gentlemen were in the business, than he has ever taken away.
At 85, there's no way to even guess how much sand is left in the hour-glass but he holds the distinction of being the only owner to have won the Kentucky Derby, British Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
No apologies or explanations are needed. Mellon doesn't have to win the Triple Crown to look upon his racing ventures as a success. But it would be another meaningful highlight that he truly deserves. He has been a continual contributor, accepting the bad breaks with the same self-effacing demeanor as when he gets all the best of it -- or the way he has demonstrated since Sea Hero won for him in the Derby.
Sea Hero will be making his third start in five weeks and, according to trainer MacKenzie Miller, his self-esteem as a runner has improved. How Miller knows this can be attributed to horseman's intuition.
"I know my horse is going to be fitter and I think winning gives him more confidence," said Miller. "He needed this race [the Derby] badly. I think when they keep getting beat they lose competitive ability. Now that I've won, I think he should run well in the Preakness."
There's strong Preakness support for Sea Hero. The best thing that could happen to racing, in a down year, fiscally speaking, is to have another Triple Crown winner, which would be the first since 1978 when Affirmed edged Alydar by a combined margin of less than two lengths in the Triple Crown events.
This time, the stage is set for Mellon, Miller and Sea Hero to do it again, providing Mellon's color-bearer doesn't suddenly become a watermelon on Saturday afternoon.