After a wonderful weekend in Atlantic City, and a brutal week of conference in old DC, and a Friday crab cake dinner fit for a king followed by a night out at beautiful Camden Yards watching the heroic, gentlemanly American League team spank the evil, cowardly National League team, it was time to get back to the business of horse racing. But first, a Saturday breakfast stop was in order at Baltimore's Cafe Hon, which was this a.m. the nerve Center of the big Baltimore Hon Fest (in Baltimore, it seems everyone is "Hon"), featuring later in the day the Baltimore Big Hair Contest as well as many other Hon-oriented activities. Unfortunately, the Big Hair Contest was scheduled for later in the day, so that wasn't a possibility, but the Hon Fest Singers (a lady and two little kids) revved it up on the sidewalk outside the Cafe Hon while we consumed a full breakfast, and it got the beautiful day off to a rousing start.
My travelling companion for this leg of the McChump Tour, PhC M, the queen of ending up at Arlington National Cemetery no matter where she was headed while in DC, and otherwise notorious for her embarrassing Gettin' Lost Incidents(tm), soon had us on the road for the track, or so she thought. I knew she had to be lost, though, because I'd read many times on the Internet that the track in Baltimore was located in a terrible, awful neighborhood. The neighborhood we were in was nothing like that. In fact, it kept getting better and better. Just as I'd about convinced her she *had* to be going the wrong way, because we were looking for a terrible, awful neighborhood, and not a nice one, there was a big old sign on the left leading into a drive, and there we were:
Well, I can't say as I feel good about the '98 Preakness experience for any of you out there, but it sure made Belmont Day nice for us, as it was Pimlico Fan Appreciation Day, with free general parking, free general admission, and free track programs, which by my cipherin' saved us ~$12 getting into the place. Concession items, with the exception of alcohol and cigarettes, were also half priced, and as it turns out all gift shop items were also 1/4 off, although I don't know if that was related. So know that your bad Preakness experience was not totally in vain, as a fellow horseplayer got at least something out of it.
Immediately upon entering, I noted one other oddity: The track that has been described here many times as a "pit" and a "dump" isn't that at all. It's really pretty nice, and in good shape. Decent lighting, ceilings that weren't falling down, okay concrete floor, well kept and clean bathromms. Even PhC M, who'd also gone along to Atlantic City the weekend before, and whose track experience is limited to these two tracks plus AP, commented that it was much nicer than Atlantic City. Arlington it isn't, but pit it definitely isn't, either. Some folks must not get around much.
Inside on the grandstand side is a big open space with a big bank of teller windows and machines down in the center, and a sloping concrete floor that goes up to apron level, with several concession booths located about halfway up the slope. Also on the slope there's a whole bunch of seats for simulcast players facing a bank of suspended TV's down over the teller window area. Further down, there's a passageway that leads under the outdoor seats, and a nice little cafe that serves up quite a variety of food items. Didn't really check these out, nor the concessions in the other stands, due to the big Cafe Hon breakfast, but all the prices seemed quite reasonable. Beer prices weren't all that reasonable, $3.50 a pop as I recall for a medium sized glass of mass produced product, and then $4.00 for a bottle of something better.
Out on the apron, a rather narrow asphalt one that slopes down to the track, there's some box seats right at the back up against the building, and then lots and lots of free benches in the sun, which was definitely the place to be on this warm, clear, sunny day, so naturally, that's where we chose to be.
The track out front is nice and well kept, with lots of flowerbeds and a groomed infield. The only bad part is that the main track is a bit lower that the turf track and the infield, so the toteboard is right in your face throughout much of the races when watching from the apron, and everyone was standing up, or standing on the benches to see just as soon as every race went off. Noted no ponds in the infield, but plenty of fancy little gazebos and stuff. Backdrop is mostly apartment building, houses, and horse barns.
The large grandstand behind is all glass enclosed and quite large, with some raised terrace boxes out front, and is seemingly in good shape. All the names of the Preakness winners are painted on little yellow panels on the front of the terrace boxes. The smaller Clubhouse, down on the other side of the horse tunnel and Winner's Circle, is also completely class enclosed. Way up the stretch past the enclosed grandstand end is some open, covered grandstand seating that stretches almost to the top of the stretch, with some picnic tables on the apron in front of that. Seating for all tastes.
Three things I didn't like: A rather poor sound system, consisting of just some PA horns mounted on the toteboard pointing back at the apron, and this sound often got lost in the wind and the crowd noise; a very poor viewing area for the indoor paddock, at least from the GS ground floor, one attempt at this for me and I gave up; and them damn Easterners who have no sense of personal space. Hey! Those of us who grew up in state with two people per square mile don't like you breathing down our necks in mutuel lines and jumping up on our seats behind us during races, you schlubs! And no - these weren't the pickpockets people have characterized Pim as being rife with, either. They were just schlubs.
OTOH - The crowd that was out on this Free day was a pretty good one, so maybe it was just natural that things would get a little crowded.
Racing on the day consisted of 11 races, with the feature being the Lady Dean Stakes for 3yo fillies running 1-1/8 on the turf for a purse of $50,000. One MSW, five allowances, two maiden claimers, and two claimers. Pretty decent purses all 'round, and pretty good field sizes.
In the betting dept., I did pretty good, turning a $30 voucher into $63 in just 4 races, and then skipped the 5th as unfortunately somehow my secretary had scheduled me to return home on Saturday evening instead of Sunday evening and I *know* that wasn't my fault, so we had to get ready to shove off. But my "imaginary" horses, picked entirely from post parade inspection, made up a nice little "imaginary" exacta in the 5th, too, and I could have been The King if only I'd lingered to make one last bet. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.
Nice gift area on the 2nd floor concourse, itself a pretty decent area with simulcast seating and so on but no time to explore. And then poof!, off to BWI.
So anyhow, there it is, the quickie impression of Pimlico. I think it is pretty darn nice, and wouldn't hesitate to go back again if given the chance. And thanks again one and all for the freebies!
Pimlico gets a McChump thumbs up!