Lawrence Jones was the calmest guy in the place yesterday.
There was this wall of noise moving in from the Pimlico Race Course grandstand as the horses came sprinting down the stretch. Beneath him, the television technicians were pulling wires and cameras and hopping over bushes while carrying big black podiums.
And over to his left, in the richest tent city in America, Baltimore's corporate elite began pushing up against a white picket fence, trying to catch a glimpse of the finish to the 118th Preakness.
Jones kept watching, balancing himself on a red ladder atop a tiny yellow house overlooking the winner's circle. He was waiting for the word to come out of a walkie-talkie so he could begin painting the winning colors on the jockey atop the metal horse on the weather vane.
"I'm not nervous at all," said Jones, 51, a painter for the Baltimore City Bureau of Transportation. "I've done this six years. You see, you just bring your paint colors and your brushes and you wait. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it's not. Take these colors. There are a lot of modern unique colors for the jockeys."
But it was going to be an awfully easy day, after all.
This was the Deja Vu Preakness, as Prairie Bayou finished first to give Loblolly Stable back-to-back victories in the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown.
And Jones didn't even need a walkie-talkie command to complete a Maryland tradition and fill in the winning colors on the jockey atop the tiny house on the infield.
Down below, ABC-TV broadcaster Jim McKay yelled, "All you have to do is change the number."
So, Jones took down the No. 4 that Pine Bluff wore last year and put up a No. 3 for Prairie Bayou. And as he touched up the brown and yellow colors of the Loblolly Stable, the scene of delight that is the winner's circle on Preakness Day unfolded.
"You never get used to this," Prairie Bayou owner John Ed Anthony said. "Never."
They came striding out of the best boxes at the track, these winners.
There was Anthony and his wife, Isabel, and his sons Steven and Ed, and daughter Paige, and stepdaughter Erin.
There were other relatives and owners and kids. Most of them were smiling and shouting and wearing brown-and-yellow badges that proclaimed: "I Like Jim Beam Stakes Winner Prairie Bayou."
And then there was the winning horse and winning jockey.
Even the cordon of Baltimore City police and Maryland National Guard officers got out of the way as the big horse made his grand entrance.
Prairie Bayou walked into the winner's circle and shook his head as the photographers clicked his picture and an official put a blanket of black-eyed Susans around his neck. And Mike Smith shook the dust from his boots and goggles and smiled.
Finally, Smith jumped down from the horse and a groom led Prairie Bayou away. Suddenly, everything got kind of silent.
On Preakness Day, the winner's circle is nothing more than a television studio.
The inside of the tiny house doubles as a shed for television equipment. Television executives mingle with race officials. And everyone
waits for a television producer to give the commands.
Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer presented Anthony with the winner's trophy.
Anthony talked. And trainer Tom Bohannan talked. And finally, after a commercial break, Smith the jockey talked.
He gave away a car to two charities. He watched the race on replay. He smiled a lot.
Standing in the winner's circle, the only way you could possibly have known all of this was to watch on television. TV cameras blocked the view. Voices were muffled even though the interviews take place 10 feet away and are boomed over the Pimlico speaker system.
The whole thing was bizarre.
But, hey, this is the age of virtual reality.
After the official ceremony ended, Anthony was mobbed for interviews. He was walking fast now, talking about how he had lost his horse but then picked him up as "he just came spinning out of the turn."
"I kind of liked where he was," Anthony said.
Out front gets you to the winner's circle.
By 6:01 p.m., the winner's circle was empty.
James Fontelieu, 11, McKay's grandson and a fifth-grader at St. Paul's School, was skipping away with Smith's dusty goggles.
Anthony and Bohannan and Smith were on their way to another round of interviews.
And Prairie Bayou was tucked safely into the Stakes Barn.
Jones, the painter, was also gone, on his way to paint a wooden jockey out by Winner Avenue.
Even the biggest victories are fleeting.
"I didn't need all those colors," Jones said. "There you are. Yellow and brown. Easy."