Preakness Stakes Run In The Wake Of Baltimore Riots
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The recent unrest in Baltimore put the city's grimaced profile on display. Today's running of the famed Preakness Stakes is a welcome diversion. Donna Marie Owens reports.
DONNA MARIE OWENS, BYLINE: It's early morning at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, just days before more than 100,000 people are expected to arrive for the Preakness. Stunning thoroughbreds, including Kentucky Derby winner American Pharaoh, are everywhere. They're galloping on the track, being groomed and in barns chomping on hay. Tour guide Emma Reigel provides a tongue-in-cheek history about the Preakness, once called the Dinner Party Stakes. It started back in 1873.
EMMA REIGEL: There was Governor Bowie and a bunch of friends around a table, and they were arguing. They said my horse is better than your horse. No, my horse is better than your horse.
OWENS: While there's ample excitement leading up to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, this year's Preakness is not business as usual.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Black lives matter. Black lives matter.
OWENS: These protests last month initially were peaceful, but later, a youth uprising on the day of Freddie Gray's funeral sparked rioting, looting and vandalism. Sal Sinatra is the general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, which oversees the Pimilico race track. He says the city needs something to celebrate.
SAL SINATRA: This year's Preakness because of the unrest in Baltimore I think is even more special because I think it's something that the city needs to bring a little calming effect to everybody.
OWENS: Besides the human toll, the local economy suffered. More than $2 million in convention and related bookings were lost the first week alone. Tom Noonan is president of Visit Baltimore, which promotes city tourism.
TOM NOONAN: During the first week to 10 days after the initial unrest we had in the city, we saw one citywide cancel, we saw five or six in-house pieces of business that - we knew our hotels lost some in-house business as well, social events, other corporate events. Since that we haven't seen any more meetings events leave the city.
OWENS: Twenty-four million people visited Baltimore last year. Noonan says while his team received calls of support from across the country, it will take time to repair the city's image.
NOONAN: Are we going to see less tourists in town this summer than we would traditionally see? Probably.
OWENS: Tourism officials plan to launch an advertising campaign soon. Meanwhile, Pimlico management says Preakness ticket sales didn't suffer. They actually went up and might surpass last year's record attendance. At events this week leading up to today's race, men in natty suits and ladies in lovely hats sipped on cocktails like the Black-Eyed Susan. Kevin Mouton, a longtime horse trainer, was asked which of the eight contenders might win the Preakness.
KEVIN MOUTON: I'd like to see a Triple Crown winner, just like everybody in the industry, but most of all, I'd just like to see a clean, fair race and everybody be safe.
OWENS: No doubt the people of Baltimore wish the same as they recover and rebuild. For NPR News, I'm Donna Marie Owens in Baltimore.
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