A VIEW FROM THE TOP

Published By: 
Phil Janack
Published: 
May 13, 2014

The track may be getting older – aren’t we all? – but not the view.

High above Pimlico Race Course, the second-oldest racetrack in the country dating back to 1870, sits a long, cement porch that hangs just below the windows of the fourth-floor press box.

From here, you overlook the track where horses such as Seabiscuit and War Admiral, Man o’War and Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew and Cigar once ran. Behind the dirt and turf courses is the infield, which once contained a small rise that became a favorite gathering place for trainers and fans to watch the races.

The Old Hilltop nickname stayed even after the hill was removed in 1938, and the infield is now best known for the Preakness Day festivities that draw fans by the tens of thousands to celebrate the race. Or just celebrate.

Surrounding neighborhoods are visible beyond the track and the backstretch, and further on is the downtown Baltimore skyline, seven miles to the south.

Over the past dozen years, including each of the last five for the Maryland Jockey Club, this has been my vantage point during Preakness week. For seven days in mid-May, there is no better place to be.

Finding that out for the first time are 85-year-old trainer Manny Azpurua and his 43-year-old owner, Ron Sanchez, who will send out Social Inclusion in the Preakness. An impressive winner of his first two career starts, he was third in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in New York in a failed last-minute attempt to get into the Kentucky Derby, but the Preakness has always been the primary objective.

“It was our main goal all the time,” Sanchez said. “I planned this, and I’m very happy to be here. By post time of the Preakness, it’s going to be a dream come true no matter what.”

A native of Venezuela who now calls Florida home, Sanchez has been to the Preakness before. He showed up to root on Florida-bred Skip Away, who finished second behind front-running winner Louis Quatorze in 1996.

“I was rooting for Skip Away, but he came up short. He couldn’t catch him,” Sanchez said. “Skip Away was one of my favorite horses. I have a big picture of him at home.”

Azpurua and Sanchez have been enjoying a porch view of Social Inclusion since they arrived from Florida on May 8. Whenever their horse is on the track, such as his half-mile work on Monday morning, they are watching from above.

“You can see the whole workout and figure out what the horse is doing. It is a great view,” Sanchez said. “We like it very much. I love this place. This is the best hospitality in horse racing. We have been treated like gods. The atmosphere is great, the people love horse racing, and that’s what you expect when you go to a place to run in a race like this.”

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