Where two worlds converge: The Preakness race in Baltimore
When American Pharaoh sailed past the finish line on Saturday, claiming the Preakness Stakes title, the horse won against a backdrop of wealth flowing into the stadium, with the crowd turning out in record numbers to keep the celebrations and libations flowing despite the pelting rain. Some would leave lucky, their wallets full of cash from successful wagers. The thoroughbred would go home with $900,000 in earnings from that day alone.
The neighborhood outside of the Pimlico Race Course, however, tells a different story. In an area where urban blight and decay are mixed in with handfuls of beautiful homes with manicured lawns, nearly 37% of children live below the poverty line. The average household earns less than $32,000 a year. And though Pimlico is the main landmark in this stretch of Baltimore, down the road, just a few minutes-drive away, is another location the country has seen much of in recent weeks: a boarded up CVS store that became a flashpoint in the violent unrest after Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore.
Public outrage over the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man suffered a severe spinal cord injury while he was in police custody last month, triggered riots in the streets last month, exposing the decades-long issues that have plagued Baltimore. And while the violent uprisings have subsided, the civil unrest represents the issues of policing, poverty and poor education that local officials and community leaders are struggling to reconcile.
With the Preakness Stakes scheduled so soon after Gray’s death and in such close proximity to the violent outbursts from last month, photographer Jonno Rattman sought to capture where two worlds converge between the crowds that ascend on the city for a few days for the annual race, and the community that will still be standing once the event has died down.
The Preakness, the second hurdle in a team’s Triple Crown aspirations, is considered a pillar of the community. Yet a number of residents that have lived in the surrounding neighborhood for decades say they have never set foot in the racetrack. For a few days out of the year, the lawns of blighted buildings become prime real estate for members of the community to sell food and drinks, or to use plots of land as a makeshift parking lot.
The famous annual horse race has brought several waves of urban renewal projects to Park Heights, including millions of dollars to clear near-vacant lots by razing buildings and relocating residents. In one area, what used to be a string of row houses has since been leveled. It’s now a parking lot, residents say.
Lenny Richards, a mechanic who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, seems optimistic with where the neighborhood is heading.
“I love this country,” he told Rattman. “If you work hard you can have paradise.”