Old Hilltop

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vet Imaging was in town this past week and they invited me to come and speak to a room full of veterinarians on both Friday morning for breakfast and then again on Monday night at dinner. They also raised donations for TPR and I am very thankful for their kindness and support.

This event was held at Pimlico Racecourse. Pimlico was the first place I galloped racehorses and I still remember the magical feeling I had the first day I walked onto the backstretch. There’s a lot of history there. When you walk onto any backstretch there is an energy there that can’t be experienced anywhere else. It comes from not only the people who work with the horses, but from the horses themselves.

I galloped horses around that oval for nearly twenty-five years. I knew the people there. Many of the backstretch workers there were generational. Their father’s had worked there as had their fathers before them.

If you went there in the afternoon the horsemen could all be found in certain places. Even after I moved to southern Maryland, if I went back there for the races, those guys were standing leaning against a wall as you walked out onto the apron near the entrance to the paddock. Bernie Bond’s ashes were spread at the wire. I guess Bernie is the only one who is still there.

I haven’t been back to Pimlico since they closed it for training until last Friday morning. It was appropriate that I arrived during what would have been training hours. It was a ghost town. It was clean and quiet. There were a few security guards around, but not the ones who I had known for years. They were nice, but they weren’t my people. As I walked into the grandstand past the paddock and up the stairs, I felt an emptiness. Something was missing – no everything was missing. Pimlico had been living in my mind as it had been, alive and full of energy. With horses, people and excitement. Trainers were on the apron watching their horses gallop. I had never thought about what it was like after they closed it.

I got up to the dining room and walked to the front windows that overlook the racetrack. I galloped around that track thousands of times. It was sealed and the grandstand was empty, even the benches were gone. Most of the monitors were gone from the dining room. There were electrical hookups hanging where they had once been.

I was glad to be home, but home was gone and that made me sad. I wondered if Pimlico would ever live again, but I already knew the answer. I had been one of the last to experience the majesty and presence of Old Hilltop. From now on it would only be a shadow of it’s former self. Shining for one day a year on Preakness day and making those of us who knew her long for what had been.

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