The People Behind Preakness
by Katherine O. Rizzo, photos by Jim McCue
Last May, the Preakness Stakes was run for the 140th time, and what an anniversary it was! The skies darkened as the Preakness horses left the paddock. Sideways rain and strong winds nearly lifted infield tents as spectators huddled under overhangs. But as the horses neared the starting gate, the rain began to lighten and the wind seemed to settle. Eight horses left the gate with Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah taking a commanding lead from the start, never looking back. With a clear victory at the Preakness Stakes added to his resume, American Pharoah next took on, and won, the Belmont to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. Oh, yeah, and then he went on to win the Breeders Cup as well.
David Whitman –
Mario Verge –
Leo Hernandez –
Eric Coatrieux –
Dave Scheing –
Dr. David Zipf –
Chief Veterinarian of the Maryland Racing Commission
by Katherine O. Rizzo
When watching the Preakness Stakes on television or seeing it live at Pimlico, it is hard to take your eyes off the horses racing, which is exactly the goal of the crew that puts on this nationally telecast sporting event. Getting the Preakness Stakes to run without a hitch takes an enormous team effort and each May, The Equiery presents a few of these key players.
Sal Sinatra – Maryland Jockey Club Vice President and General Manager
Tim Ritvo – Stronach Group Chief Operating Officer
Dave Rodman – Announcer/Race Caller
Lisa Richardson has been involved with racing her whole life. Her father was a trainer and she grew up at Panorama Farm in Harford County. She has been an assistant trainer for Rodney Jenkins, assistant to the Director of Racing/Racing Secretary Georganne Hale, a placing judge and a fill-in horse identifier before becoming the full-time horse identifier at Pimlico. “This is my dream job. I really enjoy what I do and feel very lucky to have a job like this,” she said.
So what exactly does the horse identifier do? It is a combination of a lot of paperwork, communicating with trainers and working hands-on with the horses. “Every Thoroughbred who comes to Pimlico to race must have on file its foal registration papers and a valid Coggins test,” Richardson explained. It is her responsibility to make sure each day that these papers are in fact on file and to contact the trainers if anything is missing. Then before each race, Richardson inspects the lip tattoo of each horse to make sure it matches the paperwork.
Although the job itself does not actually change for the Preakness, things get a bit more complicated as most of the Preakness card horses come to Pimlico from outside of Maryland. “This means we have to collect interstate travel papers as well,” she said. After the race, all paperwork goes back to the trainers. “After Preakness we need to get papers back to them quickly as many ship out early for the Belmont,” Richardson added.
“This is my second year as the identifier for Preakness. It is a thrill. Gives you a chill,” Richardson said adding that the bigger volume of paperwork is worth it.
The morning line odds that appear in each day’s race program come from Pimlico’s official handicapper. Keith Feustle took over that position when Frank Carulli retired two years ago. “I had been setting odds in the early ‘90s for Racing Times and Colonial Downs before taking over at Pimlico and Laurel,” Feustle said.
The goal of setting the morning odds is to have the program odds end up as close as possible to the final race odds set by the betting public. “The odds are my opinion on how the public will bet for that race,” he explained. “You have to look at a host of variables and think like the public will think.” Some of the variables that Feustle looks at are changes in trainers, jockey switches and class changes.
Feustle uses this same sort of formula when setting the Preakness Stakes odds but on a much larger scale. “Everyone across the country is watching this race. The spotlight is on us,” Feustle explained. “The horse that wins the [Kentucky] Derby has to have special consideration but the tricky thing about the Preakness is that there tends to be a few horses new to the Triple Crown races who skipped the Derby for one reason or another.” Such “new shooters,” like Social Inclusion last year, tend to pose a threat for the Derby winner. “I put Social Inclusion right up there behind California Chrome last year and took some grief over it but I ended up being fairly close.”
And who will be the favorite for this year’s Preakness Stakes? As we were chatting with Feustle, the prospective Derby field was taking shape and after that race on May 2, the Preakness odds will begin to formulate in Feustle’s head.
In order to even the playing field, horses in a specific race are each assigned a weight to carry. The race has a specific base weight and then weights are adjusted for each horse based on handicapping and the horse’s record. Since all jockeys do not weigh the same, equipment such as saddles and weight pads must be accounted for when making sure that the horse carries the specified weight for that specific race. Interestingly, safety equipment like a jockey’s helmet is not factored into the total weight. “The jocks are given a two pound allowance to account for helmets,” Frank Saumell, clerk of scales, explained.
“I wouldn’t trade my job for anything in the world. I’m like a principal in some ways. Keeping things in order and making sure the whole operation runs smoothly,” he said. But it takes a whole team to make sure that everyone weighs in and out correctly. The valets work directly with the jockeys to make sure the correct saddles and such are being used for each race and everyone seems to move smoothly between the jockey room, paddock, track and winner’s circle. “It may seem that I run the room but it sort of runs itself, really.”
Jockeys check in 18 minutes before each race and then check back in as soon as the race finishes. There are two scales at Pimlico, one in the jockey’s room and one in the winner’s circle. “We have the best scales in the world!” Saumell stated.
Saumell’s whole family has been in racing for generations. “I was raised on the track. There are lots of riders and trainers in my family,” he said. Saumell was even a jockey himself in his teens and then galloped for various trainers. Before becoming assistant clerk of scales under Adam Campola, who is now a race steward at Pimlico, Saumell was the head cook in the jock room kitchen for 10 years. “I love the people I work with,” which includes longtime friend Campola. “Without him and Georganne [Hale], I wouldn’t have this job.”
Saumell admits that for the Preakness, the jockey’s room becomes a lot more stressful. “Everyone wants the race to be flawless but I don’t feel the stress as much as others. The cameras and everything comes in. It’s always fun. A great time of the year!”
by Katherine O. Rizzo
Last May, The Equiery presented eight key players who bring the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Stakes to life each year. This year we are introducing a few more of those faces to give you a behind-the-scenes glance of the Pimlico Spring Meet and Preakness week. From pony riders to photographers to stewards to analysts, these people help make the Preakness Stakes the most widely telecast equestrian event in Maryland.
Towson University graduate Gabby Gaudet went through a tough interview process to earn the job as racing analyst for Laurel and Pimlico. Last spring, she and three other candidates went through an on-air audition at Laurel Park. “I was really looking for a younger face and someone who would come out and really step up to take the job. The then 22-year-old Gaudet did just that,” said Mike Gathagan, MJC Vice President/Communications.
“Being this young in this sort of position has its ups and downs,” she said. “Racing has been sort of an older man’s sport and there were some critics who initially felt I hadn’t been around the track long enough to do the job.” Although she is now only 23, Gaudet has spent her whole life in and around the racing industry as the daughter of trainers Eddie (now retired) and Linda Gaudet.
Her official position includes handicapping between races, with the results tweeted to the public as well as being found online. “I try to pick out the horses who are most likely to win each race, in my opinion, and give spectators some insight into the trainers, bloodlines of the horses, etc.” She also writes a blog for Pimlico, Laurel and Preakness websites and produces news of the day and week for simulcast. “Last Preakness I interned with Frank [Carulli, former MJC racing analyst] before officially taking on the job in September. I feel like I did a 180 from last year. This year I have my own niche. I’m more myself.” Gaudet’s age has actually helped her and MJC reach a younger crowd and bring a younger audience out to the track.
“Preakness week takes on a whole new level. It is a madhouse, but a good madhouse,” she said. Her biggest advice for bettors and spectators is to head down to the paddock and actually look at the horses. “It might sound clichéd but you really need to look at them. The winners stand out.”
Chief steward Phil Grove said it best when he stated, “This room has over 100 years of combined experience.” The three men who make up the steward list for Maryland racing have probably held every job you can think of at a track including being jockeys, trainers, owners, jockey agents, clerk of scales and racing officials. These various positions make them experts in the sport of racing and thus help ensure that races in Maryland are held fairly. “We are hired by the Maryland Racing Commission and thus work for the state and we have jurisdiction over all the racing personnel at the track,” Burke explained.
In order to become a steward, candidates must first rise through the ranks of being racing officials and then apply to steward school. At the end of training, they must pass an exam before earning a steward’s license. Every two years they must take continuing education classes. “The toughest part is just getting a job,” Burke said, as there are not that many tracks left in the U.S. and each track only has three stewards.
Two stewards stand at the steward box window watching the race, and one watches a set of video monitors showing the race from several angles. The three stewards rotate positions after each race. “Good horsemanship is the most important part of this job. We want to keep the track safe,” Grove said. An inquiry can either be made by the stewards based on something they see during the race or by a jockey who was in the race. Each outrider has a radio and when a race is over, a jockey can request a hold if necessary and speak with the stewards. If an inquiry is made, the stewards will then review the race footage as many times as needed and vote as to whether an infraction was made or not. “Sometimes it takes a long time but that is so we make sure that everything is fair.”
Another tidbit about the steward position is that at the start of the race, it is the stewards who stop all betting for that race. As soon as the starting gates open, a button is pushed to end all betting. And of course, as is necessary, the stewards have the best view of every race! High atop Pimlico’s grandstands, the stewards can see the entire track even when the infield is full of Preakness partygoers.
“Preakness day is my favorite day of the year,” Burke said. Campola, who also is a steward for steeplechase racing, commented, “It gets more and more exciting around here as more and more people come out to the track the closer we get to Preakness. Black-Eyed Susan is a little more relaxed.” “There are more owners that tend to come out for Black-Eyed Susan. That is when the momentum of the weekend starts to pick up,” Grove added.
Karen Przybyla – Pony Rider
With well over 100,000 people descending on Pimlico for Preakness day, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination to make sure every person and every horse are where they need to be, and not where they shouldn’t be. Taking care of the security at Pimlico falls on Security Consultant Willie Coleman and Detective Bob Vinci.
Vinci joined the MJC team in 1998 after 29 years with the Police Department. “This was a good opportunity for me to get into the private sector,” he explained. Vinci floats back and forth between Laurel and Pimlico but once the Woodlawn Vase arrives at Pimlico, he sticks around. Tiffany and Company crafted the Woodlawn Vase in 1860 as a trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association. Now the trophy, which is valued at $1 million, is presented each year to the winning Preakness owner. The trophy is housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art and brought to Pimlico sometime during the week leading up to the Preakness Stakes.
“Once the trophy is here, it is watched over by armed guards at all times,” Vinci stated. “On Preakness day, it is a military honor guard that delivers it to the winner’s circle for all the photographs and such.” During Preakness week, the Woodlawn Vase becomes a celebrity of sorts, making appearances at key events including the annual Alibi Breakfast.
Coleman has been working for MJC since 1987, making sure that the security needs in and around the track are met. From getting the public safely in and out of Pimlico on race day to patrolling the grounds, Coleman oversees a lot of people. “We go from about 1,500 spectators on a regular racing day to more than 100,000 on Preakness day,” explained Coleman. “More security is needed as it gets closer to race day and the Preakness horses begin to arrive.”
Both men agree that the best thing about Preakness is the people. The horsemen, the staff, the spectators, the press….all make for a week of pageantry celebrating the sport of racing here in Maryland. “It really is the ‘People’s Party.’ People are having fun but understand there is a security presence,” Vinci said. Coleman added with a smile, “You just have to be here to truly understand the atmosphere. I don’t think I can really describe it. Hundreds of people all cheering and having a good time.”
As Preakness day gets closer, things at Pimlico “get pretty electric” according to Maryland Jockey Club track photographer Jim McCue who is tasked with recording that electricity in photos. “My main job is to take all the publicity photos for our website and the media but I also take the winner’s circle photos for the trainers,” he explained. Although McCue grew up around the track and his parents were owners and trainers, he did not start shooting for MJC until 1970. Before that, he was a U.S. Army photographer.
“Race photography is a lot different from shooting landscapes,” McCue said. “As with any skill, you just need to get out there and keep practicing to get better and more proficient.” Unlike taking photos in a studio, track photographers have no control over lighting, weather, or the horses and people they are shooting. “Practice, practice, practice. That is really the best tip I can give.”
by Katherine O. Rizzo
The Preakness Stakes is by far the most widely telecast equestrian event in the state of Maryland. The middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness is know as “The People’s Party” mainly because traditionally, it was the only race in the series that allowed spectators to watch from the infield. Today, 138 years later, the race day has turned into a must-see event spanning several weeks.
Georganne Hale in no stranger to horse racing. She was the first woman in the state of Maryland to hold the position of paddock judge and in the summer of 1987 she became the first woman to serve as racing secretary when she took over Timonium’s 10-day meet. In 2000, Georganne was promoted to racing secretary at Pimlico and Laurel, becoming the first woman in history to fill that position at a major track. A year later, Georganne moved into the position of the Maryland Jockey Club’s Director of Racing.
Regarding Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days, Georganne says her job is “getting the best horses and most horses for those two days of racing. Those two days carry us for the whole year.” Many people do not realize that horses that run in the Kentucky Derby are not automatically entered in the Preakness Stakes. And although the Pimlico grounds are being prepared for Preakness at the start of the year, Georganne stated, “My job really starts as soon as the Derby ends.”
At that point, Georganne is on the phone with trainers getting horses entered in not only the Preakness Stakes, but also all the race day cards for both days. “A lot of times we hear about the Derby horses through the media but the trainers still have to officially enter the horses,” she added.
Karin DeFrancis has a long history with Pimlico and the Maryland Jockey Club and was a former co-owner until 2007. Since then, Karin has continued to be heavily involved with Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days as a consultant who wears many hats. “I’m proud and honored to be a part of this team,” she said. One of her biggest responsibilities is being a promoter and organizer of the infield concerts and this year, she and I.M.P. Inc. brought the Goo Goo Dolls in as the headliners of the first-ever Preakness eve concert.
“Black-Eyed Susan Day is the second biggest day in Maryland racing and it gives the track an international stage to be showcased on,” Karin stated. And over the years, this international stage has married high-quality music with high-quality horses, making for a complete weekend celebration. The first People’s Pink Party on the infield during Black-Eyed Susan Day was in 2010, and since then, the day has grown considerably in popularity and thus the lineup for the day has also grown. “We have a very competitive card for racing that day and the whole weekend brings people from all over the world into Baltimore and its surrounding areas,” Karin added. With an overall plan to continue to maximize the day, Karin and her crew responded to the positive feedback gained from Preakness day concerts and added the Preakness eve concert. To read more about the various concerts, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
After all the planning and organizing are finished, and the two days of racing actually come into play, Karin can be seen everywhere, serving as hostess, putting out fires and responding to customer needs.
If you follow the Maryland Jockey Club on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to MJC’s newsletters and press releases, then Mike Gathagan is a name you will recognize, as all of the above comes out of his office. And it may seem that Mike is the guy who does it all but he will be the first one to tell you “it’s a team effort.” From working with owners, trainers and jockeys to keeping the press happy but in line, broadcasting the Preakness Stakes to the world takes a village.
Prep work for that one weekend starts right after the beginning of the year and by April, all hotel rooms are booked and the people who will be physically on the grounds are hired. And all the hard work pays off as Mike stated, “they [horsemen] come in here and say we are the best of the three [Triple Crown venues].”
Phoebe Hayes’ official title is Director of Horsemen’s Relations, but she fills many slots when it comes to Pimlico. From organizing transportation for owners and trainers to engraving trophies and getting them to the right people, Phoebe is kept busy year-round. In addition to keeping the horsemen happy and coming back to Pimlico, Phoebe also works with publicity and fan education.
A few years ago, Phoebe started the Racing 101 forum, an all-day, all-exclusive backstage pass to what goes on at Pimlico on race days. The day includes talks with trainers, veterinarians, race stewards, jockeys and more. Participants get a first-hand look into the daily training of a racehorse and what it takes to actually start a race, and then enjoy lunch overlooking the track. And that is just the short summary. “The track is such a unique atmosphere and being able to add more knowledge to those who come makes the experience even that much better,” Phoebe said, adding, “educating the public is what I love most about this job.” Phoebe also works closely with other events held at Pimlico including Chasin’ for Children, the Maryland Million and the Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show.
During Preakness week, Phoebe’s staff of two (Phoebe and an assistant) turns into a staff of 55. “We handle all the stakes barn hospitality, book about 500 hotel rooms, hire a fleet of people to transport owners and trainers, organize an exclusive horsemen’s tent in the Corporate Village plus a couple of dining rooms…” explained Phoebe, continuing on with a very, very long list. “We take care of these folks,” she added, which is incredibly important for keeping owners and guests investing in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. And once Preakness is over, Phoebe has to make sure all the trophies are correctly engraved and get them to the correct people. “You’d be surprised how hard delivering trophies can be,” she said.
One of the biggest attractions of Preakness week is the sunrise tour of Pimlico, which takes place on Wednesday through Friday mornings. Around 400 participants, ranging from first-timers to a track to school groups and people who make Sunrise at Old Hilltop an annual event, attend these early morning tours. Fran Burns has been a tour guide at Pimlico for four years and for the past two years, she has been the Head of Preakness Tours. “This is the best job I have ever had. I get to meet interesting people and educate them on what the Thoroughbred is all about,” Fran said.
Tour participants get to learn about Pimlico’s rich history, as well as Maryland’s racing history. They get to go behind the scenes and meet trainers, jockeys and other personnel as well as watch horses breeze and meet the Clydesdales.
Fran handpicks 10 tour guides each year based on several criteria. “They have to be knowledgeable but able to dumb things down a bit to explain what is going on to people who may have never seen a horse before,” Fran said. Plus, each person she hires has his or her own history in the sport to share, giving each tour a personal feel. To read more about this year’s tours, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
Ever wonder who coordinates all the various themed food tents? Or who comes up with the menus? All of that comes under the auspices of Tommy Enzer, who starts planning for the Preakness practically as soon as the previous year’s Preakness is over. “We start thinking about new themes and generate ideas around June for the following year. By October we are working with distributors and suppliers to make sure our ideas will work,” he said.
Tommy oversees a staff of 100 for the regular season but that number jumps to over 800 for just one day of racing. Many of the Preakness day staff are hired through various agencies and many are hired internally but all have to be educated on what Preakness is and how to make the whole day seem like an everyday enterprise. “There is just so much culture and so many cool things about this race outside of just the party,” Tommy said.
The menu for the International tent changes each year as a different country plays host. This year, Japan has been selected as the host and Tommy is tasked with bringing guests a blend of Japan and Baltimore. “We want to do what they [Japanese Embassy] want from a cultural standpoint and put our Baltimore spin on it,” he said.
Specific to 2013 is the addition of the Farm-to-Table theme for many of the infield tents, an idea that was generated through Tommy’s office and is hailed as the largest Farm-to-Table experience in the country. Celebrity chef Mike Isabella from Top Chef is also involved in the menu. For details, see “Black-Eyed Susan & Preakness Preview” in this issue.
Simply put, the starters start the race. But the job is not that simple and is probably the toughest job in the industry. “They save lives,” said Mike Gathagan. The starters are the people who you see on the ground getting the horses into the starting gate and sitting on the four-inch ledge above the horses in the gate right as the race begins. “Our job is getting all the horses into the gate and off to a safe and fair start,” said Wagner.
Potential starters tend to get into the business through other track-related jobs, whether having been a groom or an exercise rider. But according to Bruce, some watch the starters and think “no way would I ever do that.” Things can go wrong in such a small metal box and even with all the padding and safety measures in place, Bruce said “you have to have some courage” to do this job.
On a normal day, the start crew is about 12 men. On Preakness day, that number goes up to 18. “Some horses might require two men and we want to have a bit of insurance that things go smoothly,” Bruce added. The crew for Preakness day tends to be the same group of men year after year with some having done the job for 15 or more years. “We swap out among the crews between the three tracks,” Bruce said about the Triple Crown races. This allows the starters to know a bit about the horses before they even get to Pimlico. In addition, Bruce and several other starters use a program called Incompass, which stores information on each horse from every race they have ever run in. “So if we have a problem horse, we know how to deal with it ahead of time. It is a great program for safety,” he said.
The Maryland Jockey Club technically employs the jockey valets that work at Pimlico, but their real employers are the jockeys themselves. The valet’s job is a multifaceted one that takes a hard-working individual who strives for perfection. At Pimlico, there are 12 valets who do everything from saddling the horses to making sure the jockey’s room is in tiptop shape. “We are like a babysitter in some ways, making sure everything is nice and neat and ready for each race. We make the jockey room a home away from home for each jockey,” Pimlico valet Richie Ramlchelawan said.
But the most important part of the job according to Richie is overseeing the saddles. Richie explained that each jockey has different-sized saddles that are used, depending on the weight needed for each race. They also make sure the jockeys have the right-colored helmet covers and silks, that their boots are clean, and the like. “We take that pressure off the jockeys so they can go out and win,” he added.
Each valet works with a specific jockey or jockeys and Richie, who calls himself a perfectionist, said, “I work for some of the elite in the business,” adding that the valet business can be a bit cutthroat at times, but his interactions with jockeys have been good ones. “They don’t get enough respect, in my opinion. They are classy and stick together like a family. Everyone I work with is so polite and they respect me as well,” he commented.
As for Preakness Day, it is business as usual in the jockey room. Richie admits he puts a bit more pressure on himself that day. “There is a lot of money riding on that one race and I want to make sure my job makes everything go smoothly for the jockeys. It is not just about one race, we take pride in Maryland racing,” he said.
|© TheEquiery - 2016|