Adventures at Pimlico

What an exciting day to watch American Pharoah win the 140st running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Md. There were sunny skies one minute, then a raging rainstorm when the call came for “Rider’s Up”! American Pharoah broke under a hard ride by his jockey and galloped home first, the cleanest winner among the other seven mud-covered runners who trailed him. My husband and I arrived at Pimlico at 1 p.m., amidst the thousands streaming into the racetrack. All walks of life surrounded us — from the young party goers heading to the Infield Fest, to the working class families filing into the grandstand, to the Vineyard Vines dressed couples heading to the corporate tents and clubhouse area. The majority of the day was sunny, as we placed our bets and cheered on the horses in each race. We sat in the uncovered area of the grandstand. To our right was a couple recently relocated to Arlington, Va., who came because it was “something to do.” To our left we met a group from Florida who were on a journey to treat their parents to all of the Triple Crown races. They had been to the Kentucky Derby many years ago, and they were planning for the Belmont in the future, after they refilled their travel fund. Several rows behind us was a color-coordinated family of four from Michigan, who found themselves at Pimlico because they missed out on tickets to the Derby this year. It was their tradition to attend the Kentucky Derby annually, and so instead they said, “What the heck, let’s try the Preakness.” These people represented just a small cross-section of the crowd that had come to see a possible Triple Crown winner. However, there was a more important activity happening inside the grandstand…… My most exciting meet and greet of the day was when we chanced upon a booth called Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Standing behind the table was Mr. Chuck Zacney and his son Alex. Mr. Zacney is one of the owners of Afleet Alex, the winner of the 2005 Preakness. I’d just told my husband about Afleet Alex, the horse who almost fell entering the homestretch of that Preakness and went on to win. How Afleet Alex stayed on his feet, no one knows. His jockey was certain he was going down, in what would have been a major tragedy. With his nose almost in the dirt, Afleet Alex churned his four legs beneath him, kept his balance with his jockey holding on for dear life, regained his footing and barreled home to win by over four lengths. Here is the video of the 2005 Preakness. That’s an ultimate example of the resilience of the Thoroughbred. In my awe, I spent a few minutes talking to Mr. Zacney and Alex about my book, and then ventured into my dream of breeding Lilly. He was very encouraging. He said he’d like a copy of “The Calm Before the Storm,” which went into the mail to him within a day! Why were they were hanging around a lemonade stand? During the Afleet Alex saga, Mr. Zacney had read a news article about Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a childhood cancer foundation who owed its start to a girl named Alexandra Scott. After learning more about the foundation, and reflecting on his own son, after whom Afleet Alex was named, Mr. Zacney pledged a portion of Afleet Alex’s earnings to the cause. Shortly thereafter, Alex’s Lemonade Stands became a major part of Thoroughbred racing, raising over $100 million last year. You can read more about Alexandra in this Baltimore Sun article: Preakness 2015: How Afleet Alex, a little girl and a lemonade stand helped the fight against pediatric cancer. That’s an example of the giving nature of the human spirit.

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