August Belmont IV, still going strong at 86, was at Pimlico's opening yesterday, a sort of human historical marker who had traveled from his home on the Eastern Shore to see one of his horses run at Old Hilltop.
Going to the races is something Belmonts have been doing for well over a century -- if not in Baltimore, then at other East Coast tracks, such as Belmont Park.
It's that thread linking past and present that was evident yesterday when Pimlico opened its doors for its 125th anniversary season.
There weren't any Belmonts at Pimlico's original opening in 1870, Belmont IV said. "My great-grandfather [the original August Belmont] was around in the '50s and '60s," he remarked. "That's 1850s and '60s. Let's get the right century."
But his grandfather, August Belmont II, was represented at Pimlico 75 years ago by a home-bred colt named Man o'War, who won the 1920 Preakness.
Yesterday, Belmont's entry, Knightly Left Hook, which he co-owns with his neighbor, Caroline Benson, didn't fare quite as well. The gelding finished sixth in an eight-horse field in the track's third race.
No doubt there were other vital links, both human and equine, who were at the track yesterday and whose ancestors attended Pimlico's opening 125 years ago.
When the track opened in 1870, it was October. There were 12,000 people watching the races from a Victorian-style clubhouse and adjacent grandstand, and horsedrawn carriages were parked in the infield.
Yesterday, there was blustery spring weather for the track's opening. A crowd of 6,728 watched the races from stands at the track, although another approximately 4,000 fans viewed them via television at seven off-site betting facilities scattered around the state.
Only a replica of the Victorian-era clubhouse, which burned in 1966, graces the infield.
But not that much has changed. Everywhere you went yesterday, people were talking horses.
Allan Spath said his Triple Crown nominee, Mighty Magee, is back in town. The horse finished fourth last weekend in the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park and will go next in the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 22.
Spath, along with his wife, Barbara, and son, Mike, were in the winner's circle after their filly, Carson Kitty, rallied in the sixth race and paid a $22 mutuel.
A pair of trainers had just arrived from New Orleans. Paul Seefeldt has returned to Maryland with 19 head after spending his first winter at the Fair Grounds.
"A great experience," he said. Robert Laurin checked in with him, bringing in five head. He is the 29-year-old grandson of Lucien Laurin, who trained 1973 Preakness and Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
In the feature, the $30,000 Fire Plug Stakes, Tidal Surge pulled off an upset when Goldminer's Dream, the front-running favorite, ran out of steam in the stretch, and second-choice Night Spirit choked up when he was pelted with clods of dirt.
That left Tidal Surge to sweep on by and win his third career stakes.
But, even that was not that much of a surprise. The horse has that all-important Pimlico connection. His sire, Little Current, won the 1974 Preakness.
NOTES: Channel 2 plans daylong coverage of Pimlico's Preakness Day this year, starting at 9 a.m. The program will include features, interviews and live coverage of the eight races leading up to the Preakness telecast, which will be broadcast from 4:30-6 p.m. on the same station by "ABC's Wide World of Sports". . . . Mark Johnston, Maryland's leading jockey in 1994, won four races on Pimlico's opening card, including the Fire Plug Stakes with Tidal Surge. . . . Local Grade I winner Taking Risks is working toward his 1995 debut, but trainer King Leatherbury apparently will avoid the temptation of running him in the May 13 Pimlico Special. The horse is not on the list of 38 Special nominations that was released yesterday; Concern and Cigar head the list.