Track Index
Concentrate the 5/7

The Preakness was run at Pimlico on Saturday the 21st and this bought back old memories of my on-track playing days at the Maryland racetracks. Back then there were 3 tracks. Laurel dominated the race dates and is located about 15 or 20 miles north of the Washington Beltway. Bowie was a small old track that was very difficult to get to. There was one way in, from Route 1. This road wound its way thorough the woods and you never needed to know where the track was located, you just followed the amazingly long single lane of traffic to get there. Bowie is now closed and is used as a training track.

Then there is the famous Pimlico located just outside of Baltimore, that hosts the middle leg of racing’s unofficial Triple Crown. Pimlico raced for the first time in 1870 and the first stakes they raced was won by a horse named Preakness. Three years later in 1873 they named the Preakness Stakes in this horse’s honor. That is how the Preakness got its name. The first time I went to Pimlico, I was struck by its odd shape and it’s age.  It’s built out of glass, concrete and wood and that has never changed. I normally got into the track through the grandstand entrance. I’d  purchase the Racing Form and a program and then continue down what felt like a dark and narrow tunnel towards the track. The floors were painted battleship gray and the walls were made of concrete. To the right side of this hallway was a line of worn wooden abandoned ticket selling stations that were there all year long for the purpose of  handling the crowds for one race: The Preakness. The track was to the left side of the hallway which you could enter through glass doors that were spaced 50 or 60 feet apart.

I always went through the first glass door and exited the tunnel and onto the grandstand by the far turn. The gray wooden grandstand stretched all the way to the far turn. That was my favorite part of the track, the far turn. There were wooden benches spaced evenly in a straight line, about dozen in total.  I habitually got the last bench near the turn, with the one-story wooden grandstand behind me.

The turn is where the real running starts and the bench was located only a few feet from the bottom of Pimlico’s really tight turns. This is where the horses fanned out for the stretch run and the ¼ mile to the finish line. Pimlico had a notorious inside speed bias for many years. I hit many exactas by just boxing the 1-2-3 post positions.

The tall large flat windowed main part of the grandstand looms over the track with an apron that has really great seats because of the views over the racetrack. As I walked toward the finish line the grandstand apron started to narrow and at the finish line it narrows down to maybe 20 to 30 feet wide, with very little standing room for the rail birds who coalesced into a small area at the finish line. Because of that position, the noise generated by the players could get really loud, with the tall grandstand behind the finish line bouncing the sound off those large windows in a small space.

One time I was on the back stretch and the race went off and the loud volume coming from the finish line made me incredulous because I was so far away. Just beyond the finish line is the winners' circle. The grandstand itself was built as another oddity. When you walked inside from track side to place your bets the floor had a short level area that had overhead TVs. The floor then slants down at a fairly steep angle pushing your feet to the front of your shoes. That angle made the grand stand seem larger because of the added height. Another bank of overhead TV’s were positioned in the middle of that decline so handicappers could stand in line to purchase mutuel tickets and look over their shoulder to find out the current odds on their horse. There were always lines of handicappers 25 to 30 deep impatiently waiting to place their bets with the mutuel clerks who were both old and slow.

I once stood in line and called out my ticket and I looked at the numbers on my ticket and they were wrong.  I said, "you punched in the wrong numbers" and the white haired clerk became irritated and crankily said, "well call out the right ones Buddy". I did, and then I gave him a hard thanks and he replied in a friendly manor: "Hey buddy do you shave your arms?" I had to admit I laughed.

I could never figure out why Pimlico was built this way. What I did know is when you went to the men’s room the attendant always had the Oriole’s game on the radio. I would associate summertime with the baseball games at Pimlico as a characteristic of Americana.

Between the grandstand and the clubhouse is the paddock, which is inside the building with virtually no room to stand and view the paddock and walking ring. Another short tunnel leads to the clubhouse, where you would see the main floor covered with what looked like imitation linoleum floors. There are iron seats on the track side past the finish line to the turn and beyond, with all the good seats located in the grandstand.

What makes Pimlico unique is the horses and the people.One of my favorite trainers in Maryland is Dickie Small.  He trained for the Meyerhoff brothers. Dickie always trained his runners to run slow early and run fast late; he had the reputation as a long distance trainer.  A few years later when I started recording Layoff stats on trainers the surprise to me was that Dickie Small was a premier Sprint Layoff trainer. The Meyerhoffs and trainer Dickie Small had a stakes winning filly named Star Minister who was a head case.  She was always saddled on the track and not in the paddock because she needed room.  She would whirl around when Dickie Small tried to saddle her and it took a real effort to get her saddled for the race as she was always worked up.

Her jockey, a much underrated rider, was Andrea Seefeldt Dickie had instructed Andrea not to carry her whip when she rode Star Minister and asked Andrea not to move or shake the rains at her and to just steer her, to let her run on her own.  He said whatever you do make sure you do not move on Star Minister and remain absolutely frozen on her. Andrea suffered serious criticism for that riding style and what she referred to as "Star Minister headaches".  Dickie Small told the Washington Post that Andrea was following his instructions to the T. Star Minister had 21 starts, 10 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. She had a 48% win rate and was in the exacta 61% of her races. Star Minister never knew that Andrea carried a whip for all other horses except for her. Andrea once said: "I hit Star Minister with the whip once in a race and she turned her head around and looked at me as if to say 'Don’t ever hit me with that whip again'!"

Dickie Small is a pretty large guy with rounded shoulders and his typical hat. I never saw him in a baseball cap. Instead he wore one of those hounds tooth colored hats. He employed unknown jocks or jocks that needed a pay check. He never rode a big name jock on his horses. He is like Allen Jerkens in New York. If you need the rent paid these two trainers will give you a mount.

Dickie Small is a former Green Beret and fought in South Vietnam. One sunny day in June in the 1980s I was at Pimlico when a really bad storm swept over the track.  They delayed post time for one of the races because of the storm. A lightning strike hit the flagpole in front of the tote board and as the storm passed, the rain was still coming down in sheets.  I saw a figure walk onto the track and ducked under the fence in front of the flag pole and realized it was Dickie Small.  He picked up the flag and folded it in a triangle, the same way that the military folded the flag.  He was oblivious of the inclement weather. Small then set the flag on a row of bushes by the flag pole and started walking to the barn area. I just sat there, struck by what I saw when a guy a few feet away from me said “did you see that?” I said yes and he said “I love that guy.” I could only say yes because I felt chocked up witnessing an unusual thing that was based on by his love of country and what the flag represented to him.

I am from a military family and my father spent 26 years in the Air force.  I have an uncle who spent 30 years in the Air Force and I spent 4 years 3 months and 18 days in the Marine Corps. My brother spent 4 years in the Army and my son spent 6 years in the Army. I always brag that in my family I am the only one that never received a good conduct medal. Dickie Small felt the same things about our country that my family does.

People and the horses is what racing is all about. One time Susan and I were at Pimlico and we were by the finish line waiting for the race to go off.  There were two really intense guys over by the rail.  The taller guy turned to the shorter guy and pointed to his temple and said "concentrate, 5-7, concentrate, 5-7”. Then he put his fingers to his friends temple and intensely said, "concentrate, 5-7, concentrate, 5-7”. 

The shorter guy looked up and put his fingers to his own temple and kept repeating "concentrate, 5-7 concentrate, 5-7” over and over. The gates opened and the 5-7 broke in front of the field and held the lead the entire race. The two guys yelled at the top of their lungs 5-7, 5-7, for 1 minute and 12 seconds. They were deliriously high and mighty that they had won. My horse in that race was never in contention so Susan and I started rooting for the 5-7, 5-7 and we were happy they won and cashed.

When Susan and I need to get a hit, we will point to our temple and say "concentrate 5-7, concentrate 5-7". 

Holy Bull is one of my favorite horses. I never saw him live, just on TV. He was the fastest horse I had ever seen. He would get to the lead and control the pace and wait for another runner to pull up to him. His jockey Mike Smith would not move when all of a sudden you could see the turn over in Holy Bull’s legs and he would pull in front again.  He quickly became my favorite horse.  At Saratoga Holy Bull went up against Dehere who the New York press was calling a super star.  When Dehere went past him Holy Bull put on a burst of speed that made everyone at the Cracked Claw in Urbana, Maryland stand up and start yelling. Holy Bull was all or nothing. He had 16 races and 13 wins for an 81% win rate. He won almost 2 ½ million. He was owned and trained by Jimmy Croll from New Jersey and if Holy Bull had been from New York he would have been called a superhorse.

Holy Bull’s last race was at Gulftream when he went up against the great Cigar trained by Bill Mott. He was pulled up during the race with a leg injury and then retired.  I had $200 win on Holy Bull. Jimmy Croll raced in Maryland as well as the Mid-Atlantic region. Holy Bull has had the good life for many years since his retirement and the new profession in the breeding shed.

Susan purchased a lithograph of Holy Bull for me. When I see one of his offspring I look to see if he is tall and gray and maybe I will see one of his sons run with that push button speed of his dad. Holy Bull has produced some really good runners; however, none have displayed the “I can play with you” with my kind of speed.

Susan and I now live in Cape Coral Florida on the west coast and we have made an agreement to move over to Ft. Lauderdale so we can get back into live on-track racing at Calder and Gulfstream and enjoy what racing is really about: the people and the horses.  Concentrate, 5-7, 5-7.