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Horse Racing

Preakness 2022 will be the hottest in recent memory. How can attendees, and horses, stay cool?

This year’s Preakness promises to be the hottest in recent memory.

With a forecasted high temperature of 94 degrees, this year’s race day is expected to be blistering, and race organizers are busy readying ways to beat the heat — for humans and horses alike.

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Saturday could mark the first time in at least 20 years that the high temperature on Preakness day passes 90 degrees, according to historical data from the National Weather Service, collected at BWI Marshall Airport. Baltimore’s record high temperature on May 21 is 96 degrees, achieved in 1934, but the normal high temperature is about 77 degrees.

In a statement, the National Weather Service warned it might feel more like 100 degrees in parts of the Baltimore area this weekend. There’s a 20% chance of showers after 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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“The abrupt beginning of hot temperatures early in the season after a relatively cool spring brings an increased risk of heat illnesses unless proper precautions are taken for those working or recreating outdoors. Since many outdoor events are planned this weekend in the region, be aware of the heat,” the statement reads.

Friday, which will include the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, cook-offs and Preakness Live performances from Megan Thee Stallion and Ms. Lauryn Hill, is expected to be slightly cooler than Saturday, with a high temperature around 88 degrees.

Saturday’s festivities will begin when the gates open at 9 a.m. for InfieldFest. The sometimes-raucous festival includes a number of musical performances, headlined by Marshmello. Horse races begin at 11:30 a.m., but the Triple Crown race is scheduled for about 7 p.m.

In the infield on Saturday, there will be three tented water stations for spectators, each with a dozen spouts, said Tiffani Steer, spokeswoman for 1/ST, the forward-facing arm of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Pimlico Race Course. The facility will also be setting up extra tents in the infield and placing umbrellas on picnic tables, Speer said. There will be two first aid stations as well.

The heat could add to ethical concerns from animal rights groups about the dangers of horse racing. A demonstrator from Direct Action Everywhere disrupted the trophy presentation following last year’s Preakness, climbing on stage to yell, “No more death races!”

The hot weather means plenty of ice water, sponges, hoses and cooling jackets will be on hand for the horses, said Libby Daniel, equine medical director for the Maryland Racing Commission.

“Honestly, we do most of that every day,” Daniel said. “The biggest thing is that we are going to put additional buckets of ice for them to sponge their horses even more with actual ice water. And typically, we just have the grooms of the horses with the hoses; they hose their own horse off. But we are going to have actual people — manned — to do that.”

“We are going to push every single horse to be hosed,” she added.

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But the heat wave could delay races nonetheless, Daniel said. On Saturday, racetrack officials will be monitoring the temperature, humidity and wind speed and using a mathematical equation to determine if conditions mandate a delay or a cancellation, in accordance with track protocol, Daniel said.

“We had a meeting with the folks with NBC about all of this this morning,” Daniel said. “So they are aware there is a possibility of a delay if we feel that it’s necessary. We try to keep to a schedule based on what they also have going on with their airing. But to them, the horse is the number-one concern, not their schedule, which is great.”

In addition to hoses on the track for the horses, there will also be truck filled with ice water with a hose attached to reach any horse too far from a hose, Daniel said. Misting fans have also been brought in from Laurel Park, Speer said. The paddock at Pimlico is air-conditioned.

Veterinarians will also be keeping a careful eye on horses for any signs of heat-related distress, Daniel said. For some horses, that looks like wobbly legs. Others will freeze up, unable to keep moving amid the conditions. But others still will try to rear and flip, and that’s when vets need to administer medication that will calm the horse so cooling can start.

If officials observe this sort of behavior prior to a race, they speak with the horse’s trainer and would likely recommend to the board of stewards that the horse be scratched, Daniel said.

“I’m happy to say that I haven’t seen one before the race,” she said. “But it definitely could be possible, especially if the horse is a little bit nervous already.”


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