From Vanessa Williams to Gov. Larry Hogan and Cal Ripken Jr., the 144th Preakness Stakes drew a smattering of politicians, entertainers and athletes to Pimlico Race Course. Many arrived to the Northwest Baltimore track in SUVs. One came via Cessna plane.
Absent were Kentucky Derby winner Country House, who is recovering from an illness, as well as Maximum Security, the latter who was controversially disqualified from the race.
“It was really interesting,” Anne Arundel County Judge Laura Ripken said of the Kentucky stewards’ decision. “I admire people who have to make tough decisions.” Ripken attended with her husband, the Orioles hall-of-famer.
Preakness is always a tale of different worlds: the InfieldFest, with its pounding music and debauchery, the grandstand, beset by structural hazards and poor plumbing and the corporate village, with its private, air-conditioned chalets and free food and drinks.
When those worlds collide, things can get ugly. A brawl was narrowly avoided when a woman in pink, heading toward the corporate village, stopped to have her photo taken. A gaggle of drunken infielders jumped in the shot, making faces, and one splashed their beer on the dress before running off.
Inside a glassed-in, two-story “chalet” sponsored by race owner The Stronach Group, Ravens players and other VIPs sipped cocktails and snacked on canapes between the day’s races. Stronach has signaled its desire to move the Preakness to Laurel Park.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young made his way to the red carpet for his first Preakness since becoming the city’s mayor, arriving with City Council president Brandon Scott, who, along with other city leaders, has attacked Stronach in the past for insufficient spending at Pimlico.
Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a loyal Preakness attendee, said that more information was needed to determine whether a move to Laurel would be appropriate. “What we need is a lot more transparent data about the impact” on Baltimore if the race departs the city, he said.
Arriving in the corporate village, Ravens starting tackle Ronnie Stanley said he wanted to see the Preakness stay at Pimlico. “I think it’s a huge part of the city’s culture. It would be upsetting if it left,” Stanley said.
Singer Vanessa Williams, who sang the National Anthem, expressed surprise at efforts to relocate. “It’s historic,” she said of the more than century-old site.
Williams, who wore an off-the-shoulder dress by designer Pamella Roland, said it was her first Preakness, though she’s a “huge horse lover” and racing enthusiast. Williams said she grew up spending summers in Baltimore. “My cousins grew up here,” she said.
Another famous face was Robin Thicke, who said the horse Bourbon War was his pick to win the race. “I love bourbon,” he said. The “Blurred Lines” singer, who wore a black suit, said it wasn’t his first time to Baltimore, a city where he has performed throughout his career. At his first venue, he recalled, “For $22.95 you got chicken dinner and Robin Thicke. The ceiling was so low, when I jumped up my head hit the ceiling.”
Another national figure spotted at the race was fashion expert Carson Kressley, best known for the reality television series “Queer Eye.”
Not everyone was interested in the racing. Asked which horse he liked for this year’s Preakness, rookie Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik said, “I really don’t pay attention.” “Improbable, probably.”
The most dramatic entrance of the day was made by DJ Diplo, who jumped onto the racetrack from a Cessna Caravan that flew over Old Hilltop.
“We got out of the plane at 8,500 feet,” said Larry Compton of Team Fastrax, who jumped with Diplo in a tandem parachute just after the arrival of the U.S. Navy’s parachute team, the Leap Frogs. “It’s breathtaking.”
After landing, Diplo, wearing a blue jumpsuit, smiled as he marched toward the InField stage where he would perform, flanked by his entourage and an eager-looking camera crew. Ravens players flocked out of the Stronach Chalet and followed in his wake.