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Exaggerator surges to victory in muddy Preakness

With his 3 1/2 -length victory in the Preakness on Saturday, Exaggerator spoiled horse racing's hopes for another Triple Crown.

But a record crowd, shrugging off the rain, mud and chill at Pimlico Race Course, underscored a brightening outlook for keeping Maryland's biggest sporting event in Baltimore.

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"Once you come here and you live through one Preakness, you feel it," said Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club. "You feel the history, you feel the energy, you see what the kids are doing out there, and you're going to try every which way to keep it here."

Exaggerator, a perennial runner-up, surged through the mud to upset undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, the favorite in the middle leg of the Triple Crown. Nyquist finished third.

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Attendance was 135,256, track officials said. It was the second straight Preakness to attract a record crowd.

Celebrity spectators included Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, former University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, rapper 50 Cent and Bobby Flay, the restaurateur who is also a horse breeder and owner.

The mood of the day was dampened by the deaths of two horses — a former Kentucky Derby entrant and a filly with the same ownership team as Barbaro 10 years ago — during the undercard.

It became almost a running joke how positive trainer Doug O'Neill was about Nyquist's chances heading into Saturday's Preakness.

Exaggerator's win, after he finished second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, ended hopes for the rarest of doubles — back-to-back Triple Crowns. The last time the sport saw a sweep of the three major races in consecutive years was in 1977 and 1978, when Seattle Slew and Affirmed accomplished the feat.

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Exaggerator is the son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin.

"I had a dream trip today," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "I was on the fence, and they all stayed wide."

The race was held in a light rain, with temperatures in the 50s. The unseasonably cool weather hardly seemed to deter the celebrities, vendors and fans dancing in the infield to headlining bands Chainsmokers and Fetty Wap.

It was the second straight year of rain on the day of the Preakness. Saturday's precipitation was less dramatic than last year's, when thunder, fog and lightning rolled in, and less of a soaker than in 2000, when it rained all day.

The temperatures didn't stop the bikini contest, or deter people from sporting customary sundresses and fancy hats.

"I think the ladies are going to have to get rid of the high heels and put on some rain boots, but other than that, everything's going to go off without a hitch," said Gov. Larry Hogan. He wore a muddy pair of shoes along with his khakis, hat, sport coat and tie.

Some fans in the infield abandoned their shoes altogether. Rather than fight the mud, they ran and slid in it.

The large puddles in the infield probably helped vendors sell a product called a Solemate — a protector cap to prevent high heels from sinking into the ground.

The deaths of two horses in early races at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday set a somber tone to Preakness Day — at least for those who knew about it.

Another vendor hawked a more familiar product.

"Breakfast!" he shouted, as he peddled black-eyed Susans. The drink is to the Preakness what the mint julep is to the Kentucky Derby. It includes vodka, bourbon, orange juice, sour mix, and a garnish of an orange and a cherry.

The race came during a transition period for Pimlico, which has installed a high-definition monitor in the infield since last year and added new carpeting and betting carrels.

Laurel Park, 28 miles away, has been upgraded more extensively, and the Stronach Group — owner of both tracks — has talked about the possibility of moving the event to Laurel.

Last year, the Jockey Club's Sinatra said that "Laurel's in the lead" in the contest to host the Preakness. This year, he struck a different tone.

"Partially that's mine and [chief operating officer] Tim Ritvo's fault because we were new last year and were trying to straighten out a sinking ship, if you will," he told reporters.

The Maryland Stadium Authority is studying what it would take to transform Pimlico — or rebuild it — so it could continue to host the Preakness

"It looks like it's almost going to have to be a total rebuild," Sinatra said. "That means temporarily it will probably have to be at Laurel. But we're talking a one- or two-year period in order to rebuild this place, if that's what they come up with."

Hogan said he expected the race to remain at Pimlico, which opened in 1870. "It's got a great tradition, great history here, and hopefully we're going to continue for many more years here," he said. "We've been here for 141, maybe we'll be here for another 141."

The Preakness has a different tone than the Kentucky Derby.

The Preakness comes near the end of a busy day at Pimlico Race Course, with 12 races before and another one after. Here's a running breakdown of what happens in

"It's more of a country-folk race," said Kelley Clark, 35, a probation officer here from New Mexico. "It's not fancy, it's just fun. You've got to love the black-eyed Susan — way better than a mint julep."

Horse racing is increasingly marketing its product to a younger audience.

"You've got to keep the young people coming through," Sinatra said, pointing to the crowded infield. "Whether they were here mentally or not, they were here, they watched it. It's a cheap date."

Among the infield-goers were Zack Ozycz and Daniel Brown. They showed up early to see Fetty Wap's performance — but wanted to ensure they'd see the main event, too.

"When you're in the infield, it's hard to actually see the horses running," Ozycz said. The 24-year-olds, who follow the Triple Crown races and recently attended the Gold Cup, were about to place bets on Nyquist.

"You come here for the atmosphere," Ozycz said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell, Scott Dance and Quinn Kelley contributed to this article.

jbarker@baltsun.com

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