Once Again Part of Preakness Week Festivities
Walking Tours Run 6-9 A.M. Tuesday, May 16 through Friday, May 19
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
BALTIMORE, Md. – Following its successful return to the lineup of Preakness Stakes (G1) festivities last year, Sunrise at Old Hilltop will once again offer fans a unique behind the scenes walking tour of historic Pimlico Race Course.
One of the most popular events leading up to the Preakness, Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, Sunrise at Old Hilltop was suspended in 2020 and 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The 148th Preakness will be contested Saturday, May 20.
“Everything turned out great. People loved coming back,” tour director and guide Fran Burns said. “I think it actually gained popularity because more people had heard about it, either on television or through word of mouth.”
Admission is free to the Sunrise at Old Hilltop tours, which run on a first-come, first-served basis between 6 and 9 a.m. from Tuesday, May 16 through Friday, May 19. Patrons can sign up at the registration tent on the track apron.
Other than pre-arranged groups of 10 or more people, fans do not need to register ahead of time to take the Sunrise at Old Hilltop tour.
The Backstretch on the Sunrise Tour. (Jon Kral Lowres photo)
In addition to watching the sun come up over the second-oldest Thoroughbred racetrack in the country, opened in 1870, the tours offer a glimpse of what it takes to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events. Fans will watch horses work out on the track before getting a chance to see them up close, meet and greet horsemen and learn some of the history behind the Preakness.
The tour includes stops at the stakes barn, where contenders for the Preakness and other weekend stakes are stabled, as well as the jockey’s room, paddock, winner’s circle and grandstand. There are also discussions of Thoroughbred aftercare and famous murals depicting track life painted by Baltimore artist Raoul Middleman that have hung in the grandstand since the 1970s.
Back for a second straight year is Burns’ ‘mystery guest’ table, featuring interaction with several industry-related people, as well as a starting gate history and demonstration. New this year, a blacksmith will be on hand to talk about the job and answer questions.
“We haven’t had a blacksmith for a couple of years. There will be a blacksmith sitting down by the barns and he will talk to each group,” Burns said. “The mystery guest table rotated people that were connected to Thoroughbreds and racing on a revolving basis and people really enjoyed that.
“The biggest thing was the starting gate. That was new last year. People loved it,” she added. “We brought the gate up right in front of the horsemen’s entrance. We had [assistant starter] Ed [Benson] there and he was explaining the history, and that was without a doubt a home run.”
Pre-scheduled group tours take place Tuesday and Wednesday of Preakness week. One of the traditional groups that come each year is from Arlington Elementary School, located a half-mile from Pimlico on West Rogers Avenue.
Burns said 500 kids will be making the traditional walk over to Pimlico with their teachers this year. Thanks to sponsorships from the Mt. Washington Tavern and Soybean Association, each child will receive a free Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance coloring book and box of crayons.
“We have more kids than ever,” Burns said. “The kids love this tour. This might be the only field trip they get all year.”
Parking for the Sunrise at Old Hilltop tours is in the Rogers Avenue lot at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Woodcrest Avenue.
For more information, visit https://www.preakness.com/sunrise-tours
“I hope that we get as good a turnout, if not better,” Burns said. “It all depends on the weather.”