Oxbow wins 2013 Preakness, beating Derby winner Orb

For some regulars, the Preakness has become an annual touchstone that is as much an opportunity to get together with friends and families as birthdays and anniversaries.

Back in 1991, Marty Alexa told his fiancee as she planned their wedding: Make it any day but May 19, Preakness Day.

But as fate and church availability would have it, that's when they had to schedule their wedding — and it remains the last time Alexa, 57, of Silver Spring remembers not making it to the second race in the Triple Crown. At least there's the benefit of knowing that every year, the Preakness and their anniversary fall around the same time.

"It's so Maryland," said Alexa, who strung tickets from Preaknesses past onto the straw hat he was wearing on Saturday. "It's just such a wonderful tradition that we started and continued over the years."

His wife Kerry, though, had to miss the race as she recovered from gallbladder surgery. Her ticket, and her similarly ticket-bedecked hat, went to their friend, Bill Yates, 65, also of Silver Spring.

For Metti Kanno, a local physician, the Preakness is an opportunity to socialize and dress up. She picked out her neon-green fascinator with great care, finding it online at the British store Hats by Cressida. This was her fourth Preakness and the first time she wasn't on call.

"I just like coming and being around all the diverse people," Kanno said. "It is a nice positive event for Baltimore."

Tory Leggio and Jrue Wolski normally attend the Kentucky Derby, but this year the college buddies had a wedding when the first Triple Crown race took place. So the 28-year-old men who live in Atlanta decided to sample the Preakness instead.

They noticed some differences right away — there wasn't as much pagentry at homey Old Hilltop as at Churchill Downs.

"But I am still having a hell of a time," Leggio said.

He and Wolski wore suits they had custom-made in China for the event — so colorful that they caught the attention of many, including racetrack staff who offered them free shots.

"If you're going to do horse racing," Leggio said, "don't take it too seriously."

The highest-wattage celebrities were found as usual at the tent of Under Armour and Sagamore Racing, both owned by Kevin Plank, the former University of Maryland football player who turned his idea for a better athletic undergarment into a billion-dollar enterprise. Athletes like Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith joined actor and Baltimore native Josh Charles and star chef Bobby Flay in the tent, located in prime finish-line real estate in Pimlico's corporate village.

Among the partiers was Bela Karolyi, the Olympics gymnastic coach who as it turns out has a second sporting passion — racehorses — that he sees in much the same light as his other charges.

"They are [both] powerful and elegant," said Karolyi, who raises horses on a 2,400-acre combination ranch and gymnastics camp in Texas. "They are altogether beautiful."

Also mingling in the tent were University of Maryland, College Park basketball coach Mark Turgeon and Towson University football coach Rob Ambrose, who remembered "doing the infield" once when he was a college student.

"It's certainly more enjoyable this way," he said.

Indeed, for many, a trip to the Preakness is a trip down memory lane.

"I went from the infield to the grandstand to the upper grandstand inside the glass to the clubhouse and now corporate village," said Michael A. Miller, a lawyer with the firm, Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver. "I guess you can call it my Preakness evolution."

Miller walked over to the infield, felt a wave of nostalgia for his first Preakness as a student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and then quickly got over it. "I felt old," the 35-year-old said with a laugh.