Preakness and the rapture: a bettor's guide to the end of the world

Handicapping a horse race like Saturday's Preakness is an iffy proposition for amateurs like me. Over the years, horse players of my acquaintance have picked favorites based on the names of the colts; any horse with a name resembling that of a relative was an automatic choice. The color of the jockey's silks also figured in the equation; ladies do love pink. Then there were picks based on the size of the horse's rump, with bigger being better.

Sham's magnificent hindquarters caught my eye back in 1973. He ran well, exceptionally well, but had the bad luck of racing against a chestnut colt named Secretariat, arguably one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time. During the Triple Crown, Sham saw a lot of Secretariat's powerful red rump, and I tossed away a lot of pari-mutuel tickets.

Since then, I have tried a variety of betting schemes, and this year I am relying on information gleaned from predictions of the rapture to make my Preakness Stakes picks. Both events are scheduled to unfold Saturday, so there seems to be some sort of harmonic convergence in the air.

The rapture, as described by Harold Camping, the head of the Family Radio broadcasting network and chief alarm bell ringer of this apocalypse, is the first step in a two-part process that wipes out the universe. The first stage, May 21, is also referred to by Mr. Camping as Judgment Day, when true believers will be transported into the sweet hereafter. Here in Baltimore, that date is known as Preakness Saturday, when about 100,000 fun seekers try to transport themselves into sweet oblivion.

Following the rapture, there is supposed to be a rough five-month period in which the losers, those still on Earth, are battered about until Oct. 21, the end of days. The description of the end of days — tales of woe, much despair, chaos, the issuing of harsh judgments — does bear a certain resemblance to conditions among the Preakness infield crowd after a long day of debauchery.

News of the coming doom has been plastered on some 2,000 billboards nationwide and spread by an army of recreational vehicles and YouTube videos. Yet precisely when the rapture will kick off seems to be up for debate. According to some rapture reports, it will begin at sunrise Saturday in Jerusalem, or 5:39 a.m. But when it is sunrise Saturday in Jerusalem, it will still be Friday night in Baltimore — May 20, not the much-ballyhooed date of May 21.

Others observers contend the rapture will honor local time zones. If that scenario is correct, as of sunup today in Baltimore, 5:48 a.m., some portion of the local population is no longer with us. At first, I wondered if this ascension into heaven could cut attendance at the Preakness. Still other reports have it occurring at 6 p.m. local time, about the same time the Pimlico crowd will be belting out "Maryland, My Maryland."

But regardless of the exact timing, it appears that anyone planning to bet on the big race need not worry that the rapture will impede his or her plans. When I delved into the details of those being whisked away — i.e., the righteous — and compared them with the mascot Kegasus and his followers, I felt confident that there is still going to be a large crowd left over at Pimlico to watch the ponies.

Mr. Camping did a lot of calculating to come up with May 21 and Oct. 21 as the days of reckoning. His math is dizzying, but his bottom line is that Saturday falls 722,500 days after April 1, 33 AD, when Jesus Christ died on the cross. He had previously predicted that the world would end Sept. 6, 1994, thereby joining a long list — including preacher Pat Robertson, author Hal Lindsey and an English hen that laid prophetic eggs — of failed doomsday prognosticators. But Mr. Camping says on his website that his math is much better now.

Major players in his calculations are the numbers 5 and 10. He contends that these numbers, when mentioned in Scripture, have special meaning. Five, he says, represents atonement and redemption, and 10 signifies completeness. Using various multiples of 5, 10 and a dash of 17, which signifies heaven, gave him the May 21 date.

Call it a hunch, but assuming I am still on the Earth come Saturday (a good bet), I am going with Mr. Camping's numbers and picking Dialed In, the No. 10 horse, to win, and Shackelford, the No. 5 horse, to place. It is a bit of a long shot — but then again, so it seems is our continued existence.

Rob Kasper