Forget erupting volcanoes in Iceland and the meltdown of the Greek economy. For several European and South American ambassadors the most vital issue on their minds Saturday was which horse to put their money behind at the Preakness.
Sipping cava, the Spanish champagne, diplomatic envoys to Spain, Peru, Panama as well as an assemblage of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) bankers brought an international flair to the races while watching the 135th Running of the Preakness Stakes from the new International Pavilion.
Inside the air-conditioned tent, in the most prime real estate of all — the finish line at Baltimore‘s Pimlico Racetrack – the honorary hosts of the inaugural event, Spanish Ambassador to the United States Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo and his elegant wife Teresa Valente, warmly greeted VIP guests as they arrived. Chic race fashion was the order of the day; the gents sported relaxed suits and chapeaux, and the women dressed in pastel sun dresses and wide-brimmed hats.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley stopped in the tent for several hours of meet-and-greet and bonding with the international community. He called the newly-christened pavilion a “great idea on the best day in Maryland” for the state’s economy.
“Every country in the world is represented by an embassy on our side of the Potomac, albeit in DC,” O’Malley said. He added that he viewed the proximity of the downtown DC embassies to Maryland as a “huge asset” for the state in terms of job creation, the innovative economy and inward investment.
O’Malley, looking relaxed as he coddled a long-necked bottle of Bud Light, said he was especially pleased that he could enjoy the races without being asked if the Preakness would move out of Baltimore, since he recently signed an agreement “guaranteeing that the Preakness would stay in Maryland for all time.”
The International Pavilion was replete with all the trappings of ambassadorial luxury comfort.
A sprawling tapas buffet, two open bars and a coffee/dessert station did not close until long past the final lap of the day. The Black-Eyed Susan, the official drink of the 135th Preakness, and the celebrated Spanish wines Vionta Albarino and Vaza Crianza were poured by waiters who appeared intent on putting forth the best of Maryland hospitality.
Rose and gold linens, a nod to the colors of the Spanish flag, created an elegant and spring-like atmosphere. Embroidered tablecloths accentuated the rose and gold-colored roses which burst out of enormous glass vases.
Ambassador Dezcallar was invited to serve as honorary host in honor of Spain’s current presidency of the European Union, said Jim Learned, the president of DC-based Elevation LLC and founder of the International Pavilion. Next year, when the European Union presidency shifts to another country, Learned hopes that the ambassador will become next year’s International Pavilion honorary host.
For his part, Dezcallar accepted the honor gladly, calling the International Pavilion “a wonderful way to reward the sport and the races.” Other Pavilion sponsors included The Virtual Golf Girl, Iberia Airlines, Jagermeister and Tommy Bahama.
Elevation, an advertising agency based in Georgetown, created the international pavilion concept as well as the clever “Get Your Preak On” slogan for the Maryland Jockey Club. MJC‘s president Tom Chuckas asked Learned to devise a pavilion at the track to introduce the Preakness to the international community, who are known to be fond of almost anything equestrian-related.
Along with Elevation‘s co-owner Pablo Izquierdo and Jacqui Nigh, the director of corporate business development, Learned pulled the pavilion project together, juggling everything from the guest list (an A-list of diplomats, politicians and high-level officials from the IMF and World Bank), security and crowd control. Viewing the outcome, Learned said he was “ecstatic” and ready to celebrate his success after months of logistical planning for his client, The Maryland Jockey Club.
In a relaxed sunroom off the Pavilion‘s dining area, Panama’s Ambassador to the United States Jaime Eduardo Aleman Healy and his wife Maria del Pilar Arosemena de Aleman, Peru’s Ambassador to the United States Luis Valdivieso and his wife Cecilia, and other dignitaries watched the races from flat-screen televisions, placed their bets at a betting counter inside the Pavilion and visited with other VIP guests.
While horse-racing was new to some, other guests like Ambassador Valdivieso and his wife said they were longtime racetrack fans. “We are big horse-racing fans in Peru, but this is the first time we’ve come to the Preakness, so this is wonderful,” said Mrs. Valdivieso. She did not place a bet though, saying, ”I prefer to look at them when they come out to the paddock and see what speaks to my eye.”
For pavilion sponsor Lynni Megginson, who designs and builds high-definition, in-home golf simulators, the socializing and escape from business talk was the best part of the afternoon. “I could not think of a better way to spend a Saturday in May,” effused Megginson.
Nearly 95,800 fans showed up to the Preakness this year, a 23 percent increase over last year. Governor O’Malley credited the glorious weather for the huge turnout and “the adjustments we made on that with regard to the beer flow” referring to the controversy over banning attendees from bringing in their beer, as they had done last year.
Lookin’ at Lucky won the 135th Preakness, a $1 million prize which is known as “the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.” At a news conference afterwards, owner Mike Pegram, sitting beside co-owners Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia explained the origin of the horse’s name.
“You see these five people sitting up here and you’re ‘looking at lucky,’” Pegram said. “You can pick any one of us and all five of us are luckier now to have each other and have a horse like this…That was the true meaning of the name. All three of us had different versions of it, but it all means the same thing. We all know we’ve been blessed. You know, the horse just keeps on showing how blessed we are.”
Other guests who enjoyed the International Pavilion were Pilar O’Leary, Greg Milone, Courtney Wilson, Tom Chuckas, Jim Tackett, Cheryl Tiedman, Gigi Garcia, Berkeley Jeffress, Michael Megginson, Evelyn Avery, Rick Baron, Aileen Cascio, Scott Markey and Jamie Cunningham.
Jane Hess Collins is a retired Air Force colonel who inspires people to contribute through writing, speaking and (hopefully) example. She also writes the “Get Out and Give Back” newspaper column, conducts workshops for clients to discover their most intrinsic way to serve, and has established game nights for at-risk families throughout the country. You can contact her at www.getoutandgiveback.com.