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Baltimore florists weave iconic Preakness Stakes flower blankets for the world to see

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BALTIMORE -- For 27 years, in the lobby of a Baltimore Giant grocery store, an iconic piece of a Preakness tradition has come together.

This is where they make the blanket of flowers that will be draped over the winner of The Preakness Stakes and the Black-Eyed Susan race at Pimlico Race Course. 

The blanket is made by a team of florists from around the city the day before the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

'Maryland pride'  

Every year after the race, the world also watches as a blanket of flowers is placed on the winning horses.  

"We're big on our Maryland pride," said Jennifer Gobble, a florist who has been working on the Preakness flower blankets for eight years. "So that's what goes through my head, is the pride you just see it going over the horse. You know because it's exciting."

Some of the flower blankets are made in Maryland, not far from the Pimlico Race Course. 

What goes into making the blanket?

Two of the winning blankets are made at Giant Foods Store #108 by a team of florists from around the Baltimore area.

"But when I first got asked I couldn't believe it because there's so many florists and you know, got to pick me," said Kim Greenblatt, a florist, who has now been working on Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan flower blankets for five-years. 

"It's a little pressure because, you know, the whole world is seeing it. So you want everything to be perfect," said Kathleen Marvel, another florist who has been working the flower blanket for 14 years. 

Mary Pat Walbrecher is known as the true expert. She's worked on almost every Preakness and Blacked-eyed Susan flower blanket that drapes over the winner for the past 21 years. 

"This blanket is a smaller one, so it usually takes all of us about six hours," Walbrecher said as she worked on the Black-Eyed Susan flower blanket. "It's just amazing. I mean, to be a part of a Maryland tradition."

Black-eyed Susans not actually used  

Maryland's state flower is the Black-eyed Susan and it blooms halfway through the summer, but the timing isn't ideal. 

"It is something that is history," Marvel said. "I mean, every race that goes through every year, that's seen by the world. I mean, they are out there, everybody sees."

The flower used to make the winner's blanket is actually the Viking Mum, or Viking Pom.  

It is yellow, and, like the Black-eyed Susan, it has a dark center. Thousands are used and handpicked each year.   

"We do not use Black-eyed Susans because they're not in season yet," Marvel said. "And these have a lot more petals, so we don't have to use as many. Whereas, Black-eyed Susans only have 13 petals."

Finishing touches

"You put each individual flower, we cut it off the stem that we put a flock wire in it and then each individual flower is put into the matting. So this is done over and over and over many times," Marvel said. 

That wire is then pushed through a rubber mesh cutout for the horse. Green felt is then sewn onto the bottom of the mesh to make the  flower blanket more comfortable. 

"It's just amazing to be a part of something that's been going on for so long. So I feel like I'm a part of history now," said Omar Allen, a new florist who is working on the flower blanket for first-time. 

When are the races?

The 100th running of the Black-Eyed Susan race typically occurs the Friday before Preakness, the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

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