Meet the ones who get race on track

The Capital - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Kal­tenbach

With the 144th run­ning of Mary­land’s premier sport­ing event here to­day, we asked some of the folks who work so hard be­hind the scenes to step for­ward for once to let every­one know not only what they do but also the pride they take in do­ing it.

Be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the Preak­ness would be a point of pride for most any Mary­lan­der.

And th­ese seven peo­ple — all of whom work for the Mary­land Jockey Club, split­ting time be­tween tracks at Pimlico, Lau­rel, Ti­mo­nium and, for some, the har­ness track at Rose­croft — em­brace their as­so­ci­a­tion with the Run for the Black-Eyed Su­sans.

Bruce Wag­ner


When you get right down to it, Bruce Wag­ner may have the most im­por­tant job at the Preak­ness. Be­cause the race doesn’t start un­til he de­cides it should start.

So, how does he make that de­ci­sion? First the horses have to be led into the start­ing gate.

And then? Well, then it’s lit­er­ally off to the races.

“The horses need to be un­der con­trol,” says Wag­ner, 55, who’ll be stand­ing about 70 feet from the start­ing gate Satur­day, his fin­ger on a but­ton that, when pressed, will send horses, jock­eys and about 100,000 pay­ing cus­tomers into a frenzy. “When they yell ‘Locked up!’ in a race, that means the back doors are shut, ev­ery­body’s in the gate and we’re ready for a start. If it’s quiet, I’ll hit the but­ton, boom! and send ’em.”

Wag­ner, who lives on Kent Is­land with his wife, re­tired jockey Mary Ri­ley, grew up on a farm in York, Penn­syl­va­nia, rid­ing show horses. “My fa­ther took me to Ti­mo­nium when I was lit­tle,” he says, re­call­ing a long-ago trip to the Bal­ti­more County track, “and I de­cided I wanted to be a jockey.”

He did be­come a jockey, a job that lasted “about two years. Then I got too heavy, couldn’t do the weight.”

So he trained horses for a while, then

landed a job as an as­sis­tant starter at Delaware Park. In 2003, by then a starter for the Mary­land Jockey Club, he started his first Preak­ness.

Not, he has­tens to add, that he treats the Preak­ness dif­fer­ent than any other race.

“I don’t re­ally do any­thing spe­cial,” Wag­ner says. “A starter from Philadel­phia Park called me when I was in my 30s, it was my very first Preak­ness.([He) said, ‘Bruce, you treat that Preak­ness like you do any other race.’ And he was 100 per­cent right.” Mark Dil­low Silks man

Mark Dil­low’s mom was a horse trainer, and he’s spent nearly four decades at Mary­land tracks. But it looks like the fam­ily horse-rac­ing tra­di­tion will end with him — his step­kids, he says, don’t have much in­ter­est in the Sport of Kings.

“Nah, they don’t work with the horses at all,” Dil­low says as he keeps do­ing the job he’s handled for the past 10 years, en­sur­ing jock­eys are wear­ing the right col­ors and de­signs on their silks (“color cus­to­dian” is what it says on his job de­scrip­tion, but every­one knows him as the silks man). Still, he’s too busy to worry about any en­dur­ing legacy. And truth be told, wor­ry­ing just wouldn’t fit with the laid-back, fairly un­flap­pable vibe that’s helped make him so good at his job.

“Yeah, I don’t get stirred up too much,” he says. “I’ve al­ways been like that.”

Good thing, too, be­cause while the 52-year-old Glen Burnie res­i­dent may not have the most glam­orous job at the track, it’s an im­por­tant one that, if he messes up, could cost some folks money.

As the silks man, Dil­low has to en­sure the jock­eys are wear­ing the right col­ors and dis­play­ing the proper de­signs; they’re dif­fer­ent for each horse owner, and help peo­ple in the stands iden­tify the horses as they race around the track. Jock­eys caught wear­ing im­proper silks can lead to the train­ers get­ting fined, he says, from $25 to $100.

It’s a lot to keep track of, but Dil­low says he doesn’t mind. “I like do­ing it,” he as­sures. “It keeps your mind sharp.”

Es­pe­cially at the Preak­ness, he notes, given the sheer num­ber of silks he has to sort through and dis­trib­ute. “Yeah, if you don’t get there early, it can be a pain in the butt,” he ac­knowl­edges. “’Cause they have a table as long as the room, prob­a­bly a 6- or 8-foot table. And if you don’t get there early, the silks’ll be piled up high, all the way down the table.” Michael Sin­gle­tary Chief of se­cu­rity

This week­end, Michael Sin­gle­tary es­sen­tially will be the mayor of de­cent-sized small town at Pimlico — not only be­cause he’ll be in charge of en­sur­ing the safety of some 100,000 visi­tors, but be­cause he’ll be head­ing a se­cu­rity staff of 700-plus (up from the av­er­age of 30-40 he over­sees on on a typ­i­cal rac­ing day).

“And that’s not count­ing all of my fed­eral, state and lo­cal law en­force­ment, along with the fire depart­ment, who will be here as well,” Sin­gle­tary says from a desk be­low the Pimlico grand­stand.

That’s a lot of folks to over­see and pro­tect, the 54-year-old from Ed­mond­son Heights ac­knowl­edges.

A grad­u­ate of Carver Vo-Tech, Sin­gle­tary spent 23 years as a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, re­tir­ing in 2014 to sign on full-time with the Mary­land Jockey Club. But his ex­pe­ri­ence with Mary­land’s premier horse race goes way back; like many in lo­cal law-en­force­ment, he spent years as part of that ex­tra se­cu­rity. This will be his 29th Preak­ness.

“Just be­ing a kid grow­ing up in West Bal­ti­more, and be­ing able to run the Preak­ness, It’s def­i­nitely an honor,” says Ma­jor Sin­gle­tary, whose of­fi­cial ti­tle is vice pres­i­dent of se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions. Jim McCue Track pho­tog­ra­pher

In 50 years of shoot­ing Preak­ness pho­tos for the Mary­land Jockey Club, Jim McCue’s cap­tured five Triple Crown win­ners on film. And there’s no prize for guess­ing which one was his fa­vorite.

“Sec­re­tariat was my all-time fa­vorite, ab­so­lutely,” McCue says of the horse that’s pretty-much every­one’s fa­vorite, whose Triple Crown wins in 1973 all set speed records that still stand.

It may be a cliche to say some­one has seen it all, but when it comes to horse rac­ing in Mary­land over the past half-cen­tury, McCue, 72, re­ally has. A Viet­nam-era Army vet who learned how to shoot pic­tures while sta­tioned over­seas, he first took his cam­era to the track at Ti­mo­nium in the sum­mer of 1970, work­ing along­side veteran pho­tog­ra­pher Jerry Frutkoff. Over the years since, rarely has a race been run at a Mary­land track — whether Pimlico, Lau­rel, Bowie or Ti­mo­nium — where McCue hasn’t had his lens trained on the horses.

Not ev­ery as­pect of shoot­ing the Preak­ness has been a plea­sure, ad­mits McCue, who lives in Phoenix, Bal­ti­more County, with his wife, Betty.

McCue says he’ll never for­get the tragedy of 2006, when Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Bar­baro pulled up lame shortly af­ter the start of the race. It was later dis­cov­ered that his right hind leg was bro­ken in nu­mer­ous place, in­juries from which the horse never fully re­cov­ered; he was eu­th­a­nized the fol­low­ing Jan­uary. “When that horse broke down...that was ter­ri­ble, right in front of ev­ery­body,” he says. “I took pic­tures, but I showed them to no­body. I don’t be­lieve in show­ing that stuff to peo­ple.”

Hap­pily, there’s more joy in horse rac­ing than sad­ness, McCue says. With two Triple Crown win­ners in the past four years, th­ese are thrilling times to be at the track — es­pe­cially for some­one like him, who spends al­most all of his time near the win­ner’s cir­cle. “It never fails to im­press me, I don’t care if you’ve won 100 races, that next race you win, when they come down, they’re so happy. Keith Feustle Morn­ing hand­i­cap­per

When it comes to bet­ting on the Preak­ness, Keith Feustle is the man in the know. Or at least the man bet­tors hope is in the know.

While he’s not the per­son who makes the odds that dic­tate how much the win­ning horses will pay those lucky enough to have bet on them (that’s all done via com­puter, based on how much money is ac­tu­ally bet), he’s the one whose odds are put out there prior to the race, printed in the pro­gram and the Rac­ing Form — the man whose best guess as to the win­ners might con­vince a bet­tor or two (es­pe­cially novices) to lay down a few bucks.

“My job is to give the pub­lic a good guide as to what they should be re­ceiv­ing at the bet­ting win­dow, in terms of the odds on each horse,” says Feustle, 51, who’s about to hand­i­cap his sixth Preak­ness.

The trick, he says, is not so much to dig deep into a horse’s rac­ing his­tory, but to con­cen­trate on his most re­cent runs. You have to con­sider who’s rid­ing him, who’s train­ing him, who owns him and what sort of suc­cess that owner’s had, per­haps most im­por­tantly the speed fig­ures, how fast he’s been run­ning. “There’s some vari­ables that go in,” Feustle says, un­der­stat­ing the case.

Feustle, who lives in Reis­ter­stown with his fam­ily, started work­ing at tracks shortly af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Tow­son Univer­sity with a com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­gree in 1990.

But his love of the race­track reaches back to the days when his grand­fa­ther was work­ing as a mutuel clerk in the press box at Pimlico and other Mary­land tracks, plac­ing bets for me­dia cov­er­ing the races.

“When I was old enough to drive, I would drive down, meet him on the week­ends and just sort of hang out in the press box. That’s where I re­ally soaked ev­ery­thing in.”

This year’s Preak­ness presents Feustle with some­thing of a chal­lenge; nor­mally, the Ken­tucky Derby win­ner is a cinch to be the odds-on fa­vorite in the Preak­ness. But with both the win­ning horse, Coun­try House, and the horse that crossed the fin­ish line first only to be later dis­qual­i­fied, Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity, opting to by­pass the Preak­ness, he’s kind-of got to start from scratch.

But that’s OK, he in­sists. At least trainer Bob Baf­fert has said he’ll bring Im­prob­a­ble, the prerace Derby fa­vorite, to Pimlico. “He’s go­ing to be the morn­ing-line fa­vorite if things stay the sta­tus-quo,” Feustle says. Kay­marie Krei­del Outrider

Kay­marie Krei­del has been on a horse for the past five runs of the Preak­ness. But she’s never fin­ished the race.

In fact, she’s never been in the race, though she and her horse spend as much time on the track as any of the 3-year-olds en­tered in the Preak­ness. As an outrider, it’s her job to keep the track safe, the horses in line and the race go­ing off on time and with­out in­ci­dent.

“We are pa­trol,” says Krei­del, 47, a jockey for 16 years be­fore sign­ing on as a full-time outrider seven years ago. “We are there to be first on the scene for any in­ci­dents that hap­pen, we are there to res­cue any riders in trouble, we are there to catch any loose horses. We are ba­si­cally the res­cue squad for the race­track.”

For­tu­nately, she says, the horses that make it to the Preak­ness are vet­er­ans, pros who know enough to be on their best be­hav­ior. Not so de­pend­able, how­ever are the crowds, who usu­ally do their part to keep Krei­del and her fel­low out­rid­ers busy. “Some­times, peo­ple don’t fol­low the rules, they try to climb the fence and ac­tu­ally run out on the race­track while we have horses on the race­track.” Kelly Ryan Track doc­tor

Al­though her fa­ther would take her to the track once in a while (where her bets were more likely based on what color a horse was wear­ing, rather than its pre­vi­ous per­for­mance), Kelly Ryan did not grow up a horse-rac­ing fan. In fact, de­spite grow­ing up in Over­lea and at­tend­ing Parkville High School, she’d never been to a Preak­ness un­til 2016.

That’s when it be­came her job to be there. As a Med­star Sports Medicine doc­tor work­ing with the Mary­land Jockey Club, she’s the first line of de­fense when it comes to keep­ing the jock­eys, ex­er­cise riders and other track per­son­nel healthy.

“You never know what’s go­ing to walk into the of­fice when you’re work­ing at the race­track,” Ryan says from her of­fice at Lau­rel Park, where she’s been work­ing the weeks lead­ing up to the Preak­ness. Ear­lier in the day, she’d treated one rider who fell off her horse and hurt her back­side, an ex­er­cise rider who’d been thrown off a horse and a man hav­ing a gi­ant tic re­moved.

“My job is to make sure the back­stretch em­ploy­ees are get­ting the med­i­cal care they need,” says Ryan, 34.

As such, she some­times has to de­liver bad news. Con­cus­sions, Ryan notes, can be a real prob­lem; when some­one is thrown or falls off a horse, it’s her job to en­sure the con­cus­sion pro­to­col is fol­lowed. If it in­di­cates a rider might have a con­cus­sion, then it’s her job to ground that rider.

Even on Preak­ness day.

“I love the Preak­ness,” she says. “Peo­ple who work at the race­track, we love it, but we hate it. When Preak­ness comes to town, things get a lit­tle bit crazy.” ck­[email protected]­ twit­­sun


Bruce Wag­ner, of­fi­cial race starter for 17 years, gets ready to start a race at Pimlico Race Course.


Kelly Ryan, check­ing on the bro­ken hand of ex­er­cise rider Ed­uardo Daniel, is a doc­tor work­ing at Mary­land's horse rac­ing tracks.


Keith Feustle is the morn­ing-line maker, who sets the ini­tial odds for each horse race at Lau­rel Park. Here, he makes notes on the day's races.


Kay­marie Krei­del, rid­ing her horse Hunter, is an outrider at Lau­rel Park. The outrider is a first re­spon­der who of­fers as­sis­tance when needed on the track.


Maj. Michael Sin­gle­tary is the vice pres­i­dent of se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions for the Mary­land Jockey Club.


Jim McCue is the track pho­tog­ra­pher at Lau­rel Park and Pimlico. He is work­ing in the Win­ner's Cir­cle at Lau­rel Park.


Mark Dil­low gets jockey rac­ing silks ready for races at Pimlico Race Course.

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