On Saturday, no matter who wins the Preakness Stakes, the same tradition will play out. The winning horse will trot to the winner's circle and get a blanket of black-eyed Susans.
Except they're not black-eyed Susans—those are out of season. They're mums, and the blanket is assembled at the Giant Food on York Road in Towson.
This is Giant's 15th year making the Preakness blanket. The chain's late co-founder Izzy Cohen was a devoted horse racing fan. Giant first made the blankets in their floral warehouse, then after several years, they moved the work to the Towson store so customers could see how it's done.
On Friday, floral manager Marsha Brown and three others will spend the day assembling 4,200 viking mums to create the iconic blanket. On Thursday, Brown led a smaller team creating blankets for the Black-Eyed Susan Day to be held Friday. The store also gets special orders for Preakness-themed bouquets and special arrangements.
Before settling on viking mums as substitutes for Maryland's state flower, Giant painted mums to masquerade as black-eyed Susans.
"They have these specially grown during the season for us" in South America, Brown said of the mums. "They pass as black-eyed Susans perfectly."
The blanket's design has evolved slightly over the years. They once used chicken wire to hold the flowers together, until an eagle-eyed Giant employee realized that produce mats would work just as well. Felt is then sewed to the back of the blanket, which is sprayed with a preservative and refrigerated until it's time to go to Pimlico.
Brown has never gotten the chance to be at the Preakness Stakes. Instead, she gets to stay home and tell family and friends what she made.
"It's exciting to see it on TV when they throw it on the horse," she said.