Preakness puncher won't be back
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
When the mobs of racing fans and partygoers descend on Pimlico Saturday for the Preakness, Lee Chang Ferrell will not be among them. Trying hard to live down his infamous antics from a year ago, he'll probably be punching a time clock, not a horse.
Last year, the notorious Ferrell became as big a part of Preakness lore as anything or anybody else, from Secretariat to Charismatic to the great blackout of '98. After all, it's not everyday you see a drunken, glassy-eyed kid run on the racetrack in the middle of a race and try to sucker punch a champion horse.
That's exactly what happened a year ago on the Preakness undercard. Before a stunned crowd of 100,311, Ferrell vaulted from the infield, where he had been drinking heavily, ran across the turf course and planted himself on the main track while the horses were coming down the stretch for the Maryland Breeders' Cup Stakes. Risking his own life, as well as those of the jockeys and horses in the race, he took a wild swing at Artax, who would go on to win the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint and the 1999 Eclipse Award for outstanding sprinter. With Jockey Jorge Chavez able to steer his mount out of the way at the last second, neither Ferrell nor any of the horses or jockeys were seriously hurt.
Ferrell was arrested and charged with first and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, trespass and alcohol-related offenses. Able to avoid jail time, he was sentenced to a three-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. He was also ordered to continue psychological counseling and to enroll in a vocational skills training program.
One of the conditions of his probation agreement is an assurance that he will never set foot again on any property owned by the Maryland Jockey Club. It is, says family lawyer Frederic Heyman, a promise his client is only too happy to keep. This Saturday, he'll likely be at work.
With the 23-year-old Ferrell and his parents declining to speak to the media, Heyman has acted as a spokesperson, painting the man who ran on the track not as a reckless, drunken idiot but as a troubled person who doesn't even remember the incident.
Heyman says Ferrell suffers from a "multitude of psychological disorders," some of which stem from his being abandoned at age 4 by his biological father in his native South Korea. He was placed in an orphanage and later adopted by a Maryland couple.
"Every day is a struggle for him," Heyman said. "He's doing as well as can be expected."
Heyman successfully appealed to Judge William Quarles that incarcerating Ferrell would be the wrong thing to do under the circumstances. Ferrell avoided jail then, but his troubles are not yet over.
By running on the track, he violated the conditions of a previous probation agreement hammered out after he was cited for driving while intoxicated on New Year's Day 1999. Ferrell must appear before a judge in Harford County on June 15 to answer to charges that he violated his probation from the DWI incident. He could be given jail time for that offense, but Heyman doesn't expect that will happen.According to Heyman, Ferrell is doing his very best to put his life back together and fully understands the seriousness of what he did.
"He's very remorseful, very apologetic," the lawyer said. "He understands that what he did was wrong, but he still doesn't remember it occurring. That's part and parcel of his mental illness. He's very thankful he wasn't seriously hurt and that no one else was hurt. He understands this could have been a tragedy."
Ferrell is living at home in Bel Air, Maryland with his parents, trying, said Heyman, to blend in and lead a normal life. He works two jobs, at a car wash and at a pet store, and hopes eventually to become an auto mechanic.
"He has clearly defined goals now," Heyman said. "He's on some new medications and is undergoing more intensive therapy."
Though Ferrell is, of course, unwelcome at this year's Preakness, the Maryland Jockey Club wishes him well.
"Anybody who did something like this has to be a troubled individual," said Maryland Jockey Club COO Jim Mango. "There's no question about it. It couldn't have been that he was just drinking. We hope he lives a long life and never does something like that again."
While Ferrell has been trying to overcome last year's incident, so, too, has Pimlico. Coming just a year after a power failure left the track a dark, sweltering hell hole, track management took another serious beating in the press after Ferrell's escapade. Many wondered how a fan could vault several rails and make his way on to the track, going virtually unnoticed by security until it was too late.
"We have some 100,000 people here and we have a crowd control person for every 70 people in the place," Mango said. "That's a phenomenal amount of security."
Mango attests that it's impossible to keep an eye of every single fan every minute of the day, especially one who Pimlico management has said was suicidal. Even so, Pimlico has beefed up its security even further for this year's race.
"Something like this has happened only once in 125 years, but we want to discourage any possibility of it ever happening again," Mango said. Security guards and/or police will line the entire turf course and will be positioned so that they are observing fans in the infield. A total of 32 guards will cover the circumference of the track, a precaution not in place last year.
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