Maryland, My Maryland

- -

Off to Pimlico. Finally. Later than I wanted, but that’s life with a child. I’ve spent the week cutting off the crust on strawberry jam-lathered toast, drying pickles on paper towels so they don’t make the lunch bread soggy and picking out shirts and shorts that match – OK, that didn’t clash. Fun week with Miles. Now, it’s off to work. If this is work.

Baltimore. Maryland. Pimlico. Friends. Memories.

My dad, brother and I spent summers commuting from Pennsylvania to Pimlico, Laurel, Bowie and Timonium. Some years we were stabled in Maryland, a couple of flat horses led by the likes of Money By Orleans, Fourmatt and Dandy Dandy. Other years, we stayed north on the farm or Delaware Park and made day trips for the races on the Maryland circuit. Imagine, four racetracks, on a working schedule. Those were the days.

We’d get up early, well Dad would get up early, I’d get up long enough to get in the car, then I’d sleep all the way to Pimlico. Dad with the window down, always with the window down, cold air keeping him awake, I’d slide my arms inside my T-shirt and try to nestle into the seat, declined as far as it would go, touching the back seat. Dad would roll into the stable gate sometime around 5, I’d sleep in the car until an exercise rider – maybe Spivey, Kevin Bowie or Toinette – would saunter past the car on the way to the track and bellow at the boy sleeping in the car. I hated missing a set, but I hated missing sleep too. Eventually, I walked hots, galloped, went racing and became part of Maryland racing, loving afternoons at any of the four tracks. We weren’t tried and true Marylanders but we were accepted, appreciated for playing the game. I think.

The Maryland circuit was the best, an old soul. Families, home-breds, crab cakes, the state fair, Pimlico. Eventually, things changed, Dad lost his job working for George Strawbridge and convinced his three kids to go to college. We went, but came back. My sister, Sheila, basically stayed out, watching this crazy game play out from afar. I rode jumpers. Joe wrote newspapers and somehow we wound up back in Maryland, writing and editing Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, a descendent of the magazine which we grew up with – The Maryland Horse.

Today, we’ll go to the Alibi Breakfast, see old friends – Holly Robinson will give me hell about something – and try to keep the flame alive. Times have changed, the innocent young exercise riders in the photos on the walls of Pimlico track kitchen are grown up, Dickie Small won’t be there, Tom Voss won’t be shipping in, Joe Aitcheson isn’t galloping Port Conway Lane, the old grooms who used to send me to the kitchen with a dollar and an order are long gone and the sport seems more like a business. But, it’s Preakness time. We still have that.