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Weather Looms a Hot Topic for Preakness, Pimlico

Temperatures could be in the 90s for Preakness, Black-Eyed Susan Days in Baltimore.

Horse racing at Pimlico Race Course

Horse racing at Pimlico Race Course

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

As much as there's only a 4% chance of rain in Baltimore on May 21, the Preakness Stakes (G1) may not avoid Mother Nature's wrath.

Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the mid-90s at Pimlico Race Course for Saturday's Preakness and the low 90s May 20 for Black-Eyed Susan Day, creating the potential for broiling conditions for the equine athletes on the racetrack and fans who will jam the aging facility.

According to weather.com as of noon on May 18, the high in Baltimore on Saturday will be 96 degrees, which coupled with 49% humidity, will create a heat index of nearly 105 degrees. Their forecast on Friday calls for a high of 92 degrees with 56% humidity.

The National Weather Service lists a high of 94 Saturday and 89 Friday.

Clouds reflect off the clubhouse window at Pimlico Race Track Friday  May 14, 2021 in Baltimore, MD
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Clouds reflect off the clubhouse window at Pimlico Race Course

"Hopefully that's to our advantage," said Saffie Joseph Jr., who trains the Florida-based Preakness starter Skippylongstocking, a 20-1 shot in the morning line who started his career racing at humid Gulfstream Park in Florida last summer. "He's accustomed to the heat and has run on very hot days. It's common in Florida. We can use every break we can get on Saturday."

Simplification, a 6-1 shot in the Preakness trained by Antonio Sano, has the added experience of being a Florida-bred son of Not This Time  who has been exposed to heat and humidity for much of his 3-year-old life.

"He's Florida born and bred," said Sano's son and assistant trainer Alessandro. "Ever since he was a baby, he's been exposed to the sun and hot days. He ran on hot days at Gulfstream in the summer. He broke his maiden on a very hot day at Gulfstream, so he shouldn't be bothered by it much. Running in those kind of temperatures is not ideal for anyone but at least having the knowledge that our horse has performed with success in that kind of weather before gives us a little more confidence."

Tim Yakteen, who trains California-based Armagnac, is a veteran of hot days on the West Coast and said proper hydration will be vital given the potentially oppressive conditions.

"You have to make sure your horse is hydrated and provide a nice climate for him by hosing him down and keeping him wet. Those are the logical things," he said. "There's no magic trick to it. It all boils down to how each horse does in the weather, which is something you might be able to see from his past performances."

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas said he was uncertain of how the weather would impact his filly, Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath, in the Preakness.

"We'll have to see," he said. "She  hasn't raced in that kind of heat before, but we'll try to get through it. It will be the same for everyone," he said.

Lukas said the heat is generally tougher on horses who tend to get worked up before their races.

"It will affect all of our horses but I will say it can affect some more than others, especially those that let their adrenaline base get a little high," he said. "Depending on the humidity, it could impact the oxygen intake a bit."

Almost all of the nine Preakness starters spent their winter in warmer southern or western climates with the lone exception being 7-2 second choice Early Voting. The Chad Brown-trained Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2) runner-up wintered in frigid New York and all three of his career starts have been at Aqueduct Racetrack in December, February, and April.

"I can't predict how it will affect Early Voting," Brown said. "All you can do is keep the horses hydrated and cool with water and such. It's unfortunate, especially for the horses, to have such a prestigious race and big weekend for everyone and to have to deal with such oppressive conditions. We just have to hold out hope the forecasts are wrong."

Like the Florida and California horsemen, 1/ST Racing officials are experienced with hot, humid days. Aside from owning the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico and Laurel Park, 1/ST Racing's network of tracks include Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park in California.

"We run into this situation at all of our tracks. We routinely run with temperatures like that in Florida and on occasion during the fall meet at Santa Anita Park we'll have a day like that," said Craig Fravel, CEO of 1/ST Racing, part of The Stronach Group. "We monitor all of the conditions. We make sure we have plenty of water nearby to attend any of the horses if they have heat issues. So it's a really a matter of preparation."

Breeders’ Cup President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Fravel at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) on Nov. 1, 2019 Santa Anita in Arcadia, Ca.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Craig Fravel

While Fravel is hoping the forecasts prove wrong, having several days to prepare for it gives Pimlico workers and officials time to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

"We're going to check with all the proper authorities about back-up generators and the air conditioning," he said. "There will be plenty of water around and places for people to be in the shade. There will be plenty of room inside the building if they need to be inside rather than in the sun."

While the clubhouse and the infield chalets have air conditioning or protection from the sun, the potential hot spots figure to be the infield, where there will be an Infield Fest featuring electronic artists Marshmello, The Chainsmokers, DJ Frank Walker, and rapper Moneybagg Yo, and the rows of uncovered apron seating that basically stretches from the three-sixteenths pole to the start of the first turn.

In 2019, extreme heat at Monmouth Park on Haskell Day forced the track to shorten the card and suspend racing for nearly five hours and shift the post time for the grade 1 stakes to 8:12 p.m. But Fravel said he did not anticipate any changes to a 14-race card that will begin at 10:30 a.m. when temperatures will be somewhat cooler.

Monmouth Park, misters, cooling, fans, heat
Photo: Chad B. Harmon

"I wouldn't think so based on what we know," Fravel said about the possibility of delaying the card and the Preakness, which is slated for a 7:01 p.m. post time with national television coverage on NBC.

While there's certainly the chance that a different weather system could brighten the weekend outlook, Fravel, who grew up in Baltimore, is hopeful Maryland residents will be able to adapt to the conditions.

"I think people in Baltimore are used to temperatures around 90 degrees," he said.