The 116th running of the Preakness Stakes is eight days away, but the fourth annual Maryland Preakness Celebration -- boasting more than 150 events throughout the state -- kicks off today and runs through May 19. Many events are free or offer reduced admission with a Preakness Pin (see note below).
The centerpiece of today's activities is the Preakness Celebration Parade, which begins at 6:45 p.m. (see map) in downtown Baltimore. The two-hour extravaganza will pay tribute Operation Desert Storm personnel and will feature scores of marching units and colorful floats, including giant helium balloon characters. WBAL-TV (Channel 11) will cover the event live beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Another focal point this weekend is a Hot Air Balloon Festival, with competitions tomorrow morning at Druid Hill Park and Sunday morning at Oregon Ridge Park. A Children's Festival, following Saturday's launch, will feature clowns, carnival games and more. In addition, the Crown Central BalloonGlow and Concert will be held tomorrow from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Oregon Ridge. The balloons will be heated as night falls, creating an array of colors against the darkness. The Grammy-nominated country group the Forresters will perform. Admission is $10, with $2 off for those with a Preakness Pin.
Other festival highlights include the Concours D'Elegance "thoroughbred" automobile show -- featuring vintage and exotic race cars -- at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field, the AT&T Great Schooner Race at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Inner Harbor, scores of horse shows and fairs throughout the state and block parties such as the "Michelob Nights" held nightly at the Water Street taverns in downtown Baltimore.
Preakness Pins available
A commemorative Preakness Pin will provide free or reduced admission to many events, as well as a chance to win more than $10,000 in prizes -- ranging from a $5,000 cash prize and trips to Amsterdam and Disney World to Orioles and Preakness tickets.
Proceeds from sale of the $2 pin will benefit the Campaign for Our Children, which seeks to prevent teen pregnancy. Pins are available at Crown gasoline stations, Rite Aid stores, Royal Farm stores and selected Preakness events. For information, call 837-3030.
Asterisk (*) denotes free or reduced admission for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm service men and women with proper identification.
Hot air balloon flight, Oregon Ridge Park, Cockeysville. 6:30 a.m. Free with pin.
YWCA Circle Promenade. Lawyers' Mall and State Circle. Annapolis. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Street festival. 268-5093. Free.
Paolo's Preakness Pasta Primavera Contest. Harborplace amphitheater. Noon. Baltimore celebrities compete to eat one pound of Paolo's pasta primavera. 332-4191. Free.
A day at Pimlico Race Course. 1 p.m. 542-9400. Free admission with pin coupon.
Baltimore African Violet Club Show and Sale. Towson Marketplace. 1 p.m.-9 p.m. 686-4667. Free.
National Junior College Lacrosse Tournament. Catonsville Community College. 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 455-4419. Admission.
True Vine Concert Series. Fine and Performing Arts Center Theatre, Catonsville Community College. 8 p.m. 455-4590. Admission.
Preakness Celebration Parade pays tribute to U.S. Armed Forces. 6:45 p.m. Live coverage by WBAL-TV and WBAL-AM Radio from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. South on Charles Street to Inner Harbor. 837-3030. Free.
Michelob Nights. Water Street taverns. 5:30 p.m.-midnight. Outdoor block party featuring dancing and live entertainment. 837-3030. Free with pin.
Hot Air Balloon Competition and Children's Festival. Liftoff between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. Druid Hill Park. Children's Festival includes games, clowns, entertainment. 837-3030. The Baltimore Zoo opens at 9 a.m. Free food, prizes and $1 off admission to the zoo with Preakness Pin.
$750,000 Pimlico Special. Pimlico Race Course. Triple Crown alumni: Thoroughbred greats Unbridled and Summer Squall and promising newcomers Farma Way and Jolie's Halo expected to compete. Post time 12:30 p.m. 542-9400. Admission.
Balloonglow and concert. * Brightly lit helium balloons will light up the night sky. 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Oregon Ridge Park, Cockeysville. Forester Sisters perform at 6 p.m. with proceeds benefiting Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. 837-3030. Admission ($1
off with pin).
Michelob Nights. Water Street taverns. 7:30 p.m.-midnight. Outdoor block party featuring dancing and live entertainment. 837-3030. Free with pin.
Concours d'Elegance Vintage Auto Show. * Rash Field, Inner Harbor. 10 a.m. Vintage, exotic race cars. 396-7931. Admission ($1 off with pin).
Tour Du Pont. Following a morning start from Newark, Del., more than 120 world-class cyclists race through Harford, Cecil, Carroll, Baltimore and Howard counties toward the finish line of stage two of America's premier cycling competition. (804) 649-0034. Free.
Antique Auto Show and Spring Fling. Cambridge. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Antique cars and special sidewalk sales. (301) 228-3575. Free.