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Crab Derby led up to the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This weekend, Baltimore brought back a local contest ahead of the Preakness Stakes horse race. You can call it a clash of the crustaceans, a sprint for the shellfish. It's the Maryland blue crab derby. And we asked WYPR's Emily Hofstaedter to go and send us back a report.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

EMILY HOFSTAEDTER, BYLINE: That's the sound of the water going on the six-lane racetrack, making it slick for our 10-legged athletes. The track is basically a waist-high wooden slide with a nice, gentle slope, giving the crabs the gift of gravity, because, as Bill Devine points out, crabs aren't particularly good runners.

BILL DEVINE: The things, they don't walk backwards and forwards. They walk sideways like a politician.

HOFSTAEDTER: Ninety-one-year-old Bill and his wife, Nancy, are local seafood royalty. Their family has been running the event for nearly 40 years. It's part of several days' worth of festivities leading up to the Preakness Stakes, Baltimore's local race in the Triple Crown. For the folks gathered in Baltimore's historic Lexington Market, crab derby is a perfect opportunity to turn up and turn out. Jessica Blackwell points to her head.

JESSICA BLACKWELL: Oh, this is a fascinator. So it's a - you know, it's a cute, little accessory. (Laughter) It's not as big as my Preakness hat or as the hat that I'm going to wear to Black-Eyed Susan Day. But it's, you know, it's derby appropriate.

HOFSTAEDTER: So the hats are going to get bigger throughout the week?

BLACKWELL: The hats are going to get bigger throughout the week. They have to.

HOFSTAEDTER: Jockeys gather to pick their racers. Mother-and-son duo Will and Damye Hahn bring out a steel barrel with crabs crawling around inside.

DAMYE HAHN: Pick a crab for the race, only 9.99.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Big or small, any ideas?

HAHN: I like the little ones with the orange claws 'cause I think the girls are faster.

HOFSTAEDTER: The crabs do get a little bit of help from their human jockeys. Damye pulls out a stick with about two feet of fishing line attached to an orange bobber at the end, like a marionette stick without the puppet.

HAHN: That's how you're going to get them to go. You got a squirt bottle behind you and a bobber, OK? So you can use the...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So you want them to get to chase this.

HAHN: Yes. You want to get them down the lane.

HOFSTAEDTER: And finally, we're off to the races.

(CHEERING)

HOFSTAEDTER: This year there was no competition. The speediest crab by far belonged to former baseball player B.J. Surhoff of the Baltimore Orioles. Surhoff's crab is lucky.

B J SURHOFF: I will not eat him. I'm allergic to shellfish. He's a champ. He gets to live.

HOFSTAEDTER: Those without shellfish allergies get no time to rest because after the race is done, it's straight to the crab-picking contest.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Hofstaedter in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOISESTORM'S "CRAB RAVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Hofstaedter