A Dartmouth green awning shrouded the Preakness horses inside the stakes barn at Pimlico. Only their nameplates were fully visible. D. Wayne Lukas, the legendary trainer, in his trademark white cowboy hat, stood just outside the stable talking to a writer. Jerry Bailey, the celebrated jockey and NBC racing analyst was nearby.
Pimlico visitors on the morning’s last “Sunrise at Old Hilltop” tour — conducted for the past several years during Preakness week — strolled past both men. Then, they took out cell phones to get photos of Preakness long-shot, Calumet Farm’s Term Of Art, getting a sudsy bucket bath from three groomsmen.
The tour guide moved the group along, asking visitors to cluster around Mike Shipley, the track’s farrier, on the parking lot. Standing in front of his red pickup, packed high with tools, Shipley, sporting well-worn leather chaps, passed around horseshoes from a grey plastic bin.
As Pimlico’s farrier, Shipley checks the shoes on all horses entering the paddock and makes any last minute repairs.
“I’m really a racing official now. The safety of the horses and riders come first for me,” says Shipley. “At the racetrack, an ambulance follows you to work every day,” says Shipley who has been “kicked a couple times and broken a few bones.”
He’s had some close calls with other injuries, but says he’s fortunate to be working everyday with owners, trainers, jockeys and others who look out for each other’s safety.
“A lot of these guys are in here at 3 a.m. getting ready for the Preakness,” says Shipley, who has the responsibility of notifying the race caller if horses are fitted with nonstandard shoes, like triple crown-winner American Pharoah’s special plates, applied after a prior injury in the 2015 Preakness.
This week, as Pimlico is inundated with news media trucks, the Budweiser Clydesdales and crews setting up the infield, Shipley looks forward to reconnecting with some of his trade’s best practitioners, folks like Jim Jimenez, a farrier who has worked for 22 years with Doug O’Neill, the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer.
On Saturday, May 20, Shipley will be at Pimlico enjoying the excitement of the Preakness.
“I’ll be watching on a 13-inch TV,” he says. “I’ll get to see more of the race that way.”