It was late in the afternoon before some of Maryland’s VIPs began showing up at Pimlico: Gov. Wes Moore in a summer jacket, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in a colorful suit, “Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr. and a handful of Baltimore Ravens players.
Those who were there to see Bruno Mars still had to wait until a certain horse race was done, but that was not scheduled until 7:01 p.m.
In the meantime, Baltimore School for the Arts students sang the national anthem. There was a protest for animal rights. DJ Zack Bia helpfully offered a snippet of the Mars song “Billionaire.”
But crowds seemed patient, enjoying the sunny weather that reached a pleasant 77 degrees. And even the aging infrastructure at Pimlico mostly seemed to be cooperating.
“Everything’s been real smooth,” said Keith Thomas, who has been coming to Preakness for the last 20 years with three childhood friends.
Thomas said they wake early, say a prayer, get breakfast and get dressed before the party starts.
“Can’t wait for Bruno Mars to show up,” he said.
Less certain is what happens at Pimlico next year and in coming years. Although consensus has been building to restore the facility and keep Preakness in Baltimore, rather than moving it to Laurel Park, the main issue is funding and it isn’t ensured.
Several politicians expressed optimism Saturday about racing at Pimlico and the horse racing industry generally in Maryland.
“Everything should be at Pimlico, everything,” said Scott, Baltimore’s Democratic mayor. “Preakness should be here. We know Preakness is going to be here. We want one investment: Park Heights. Baltimore. Pimlico.”
Scott said it seems as though all the parties are “in unison” about reviving Pimlico, and he’s confident a deal will be worked out in the coming months.
Moore was all smiles at his first Preakness in office. He said he was pleased to see tens of thousands of people streaming into Pimlico.
”This is Maryland’s day,” the Democratic governor said. “I mean, not just the whole country but the whole world is looking at us right now.”
About the big race: One of the 380 members of the micro-share company Commonwealth, which owns a stake in Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Mage, was eagerly awaiting the race to go off around 7:01 p.m.
Sam Barone bought in last December after he heard Mage’s name. He’d just lost his dog Maggie.
He wore a lucky “CW” pin, for Commonwealth, and said, ”Hopefully, we’re celebrating at the end of the day.”
Meanwhile in the infield, the crowd continued to get bigger and bigger.
The mood was marred only temporarily when a 3-year-old colt, Havnameltdown, suffered an injury in the Chick Lang Stakes and was euthanized earlier in the afternoon. The jockey, Luis Saez, was tossed from the horse and taken to neighboring Sinai Hospital complaining of leg pain.
His agent, Kiaran McLaughlin, tweeted Saez has been released from the hospital and “is doing great!”
Elsewhere, Marjorie Harris and Carla Carroll celebrated the gentle creatures they have loved since they began riding at age 6 or 7.
The pair made a successful bet on a horse named Ryvit, a last-minute choice.
How did they pick? “I have no idea,” Harris said. “Maybe it’s the spiritual connection I have with animals.”
Making the trek to Pimlico is tradition for many.
Horace Liles, Sam Newman and John Taylor do this every year. For decades, the men have been making the same trip from North Carolina to Baltimore in hopes of winning big.
Liles has been coming for the longest — totaling 50 trips to the Preakness Stakes. His first was in 1974 when he was 24 years old. A decade in, he invited Newman. Another decade later, Taylor finally got his invite.
”He’s a rookie,” Liles joked.
They were all co-workers, and have since retired, but their annual trip continues. There used to be five of them. One has died, and the other is physically unable to make the journey. They’ll each have a drink in their honor — toasting to a lucky race day. And, even if not, there is always next year.
Tiffani Freeman and husband David Freeman were perfectly coordinated. Her orange hat with the big ruffle, plus jacket and shoes, matched the orange ribbon on his hat and his shirt tucked into a seersucker suit.
“The outfits came together in the last five days,” she said. “It came down to orange and yellow, and we went with orange. Now I have a lot of hats to return.”
This was the first trip to Preakness for the Freemans, Baltimore natives who often drove past but never set foot in Pimlico before. They decided to do something different for her birthday weekend than in years past when her family thought of the big race as a traffic inconvenience.
They were ready to go all in, trying the peach-schnapps-based black-eyed Susan drink and betting on the horses — that is, after he gets to the paddock to judge the legs for themselves.
Connie Frostenson sprinkled a healthy dose of Old Bay onto her crab cake. She and husband Nels Frostenson had traveled from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, to meet friends who are Preakness regulars. She even painted her hat a peachy color to match her outfit, and his.
The pair jumped at the chance to return to the area for Preakness when their friends invited them. They were ready to make some bets, not having been discouraged the day before when the horse they picked “came in dead last.”
The bed was made after meeting the owner, Connie said.
“We’re still excited to be here,” he said. “Such a rich history.”
Baltimore Banner reporters Brenna Smith, Cadence Quaranta and Clara Longo de Freitas contributed to this article.