One of the traditions the week of the Preakness is attending “Sunrise at Old Hilltop”, Old Hilltop being the traditional name of Pimlico Racecourse. While the event begins at 6:00 a.m, we didn’t arrive until about 7:15, which was early enough to watch some of the horses go through their gallops. We listened to some of the trainers talk about their strategies, although there were so many children there, I didn’t pick up any hot tips. We then went to the Jockeys’ Changing Rooms, where a valet walked us through the pre-race process. Jockeys are very small in flat races, and weight is everything. The valet told us about the jockeys sitting in the 160* sauna for several hours, coated in salt and oil, trying to sweat off those last few pounds. He talked about their helmets, which are covered by nylon caps which match their silks. And the silks are extremely important, as you can see by this notice. The jockeys wear several pairs of goggles at a time, depending on how muddy the course is. As you might imagine, there’s dirt and mud being kicked up by all of the other horses, and so the jockeys are constantly flipping their goggles up. There are dozens and dozens of pairs of goggles everywhere, and we each got a pair.
The valet showed us the saddles which are tiny. They can weigh as little as five pounds and if the jockey needs more weight to make up the handicap weight, they can add pieces of lead to pockets on the saddle. Although you might think the wonderful black jockeys’ boots are of the finest leather, they’re really paper thin, just to save them weight. Each rider also has several whips, some are stiffer than others, and each has a favourite. The valet mentioned that after each race, the jockeys come up to the changing room, get out of their silks, sponge off from the prior race, put their dirty silks in a laundry bag, get dresses again in new silks and head down to mount up again. The time between races is pretty short, so if a valet has several jockeys, it’s a real challenge.
After that, we headed over to the barns to see some of the contenders. The Preakness stalls are set up especially for the big race, and on Saturday, the stalls will be filled with straw and hay, and the horses will be saddled here and then taken out to the course.
The barns are all freshly painted and have loads of hanging baskets, flowers and plants to cheer the place up. We had a chance to see Goldencents being washed down after his workout by his groom. There was a nice piece in the New York Times today about the life of a groom – particularly this groom, Dagoberto Lopez. Here. We also had a chance to meet Goldencents’ jockey, Kevin Krigger, the first African-American jockey to have a chance to win a Triple Crown race since 1902. Kevin’s a pretty incredible jockey, and has been aboard Goldencents on all of the horse’s seven wins. Kevin has won 937 races, with earnings of nearly $18 million! He was the most charming man, and answered our questions easily and patiently. There’s a great story about Kevin here. I wish him all the best, preferably second place, mainly because I want the hometown-ish horse, Orb to win!
It was a great morning and I managed to get to the office before 8:45 .m. I will look forward to watching the race on Saturday afternoon!