Infield of Slobs diminishes the Preakness


You know you've arrived at the Pimlico Racetrack's low-rent district at the first sound of stereophonic belching. Did somebody mention a horse race? Not on Preakness Day in the infield, not in this teeming mass of alleged humanity, not where you walk through this mob afraid to stare too long for fear of being turned into a pillar of sludge.

You enter the infield -- appropriately, it's fenced off from the rest of Civilization as We Remember It -- and immediately notice two guys holding up a printed sign: "Show Us Your [Major Area of Upper Female Anatomy]."

"You guys have any luck with that sign?" asks a young gentleman with, to be fair about it, nearly half a mouthful of teeth.

"Two, so far," says one of the guys holding the "Show Us" sign with one hand and a can of beer with the other. "And I think one of them was a girl."

Now he spots another prospect, a woman with prematurely orange hair who's marching through the crowd and grabbing guys by their trousers.

"Show us your [anatomy]," the guys with the sign are crying now. "We'll give you $5 and a beer."

The young woman, in a halter top and cutoff jeans with the zipper open over a bikini bottom, stumbles through the thick crowd, grabbing at various men. The men grab back. Show us your (anatomy), the men yell. Show me yours, she yells back. People are tripping over bodies sprawled on the grass, and you sense a thin line between good-natured kidding and some sort of unwritten danger zone.

The woman in the halter top skips away, but another woman cries, "What's this about beer?" and somebody produces this long plastic hose with a wide beaker on the end that looks as if it's been liberated from a college chemistry lab or a gas station.

The woman begins drinking from one end of the tube. Everybody's cheering her. Or maybe they're cheering the drunk the police are leading out, a bare-chested guy who's got a tattoo on his arm that's either the mark of his biker gang or his Phi Beta Kappa symbol.

"Step on up, don't be shy," shouts the guy with the beer hose to all passing women.

"Five bucks and a beer," shouts the guy with the "Show Us Your [anatomy]" sign.

"Lose that shirt, lose that shirt," comes a chorus of male voices.

Ah, the Preakness!

Ah, the splendor of thoroughbred horse racing!

Ah, nuts!

In the infield, this isn't a horse race, it's Slobs on Parade. It's the Joads gone bad. Don't these people have mothers?

On Sunday, track operator Joe De Francis called this Preakness day "the most successful" in history. He's talking attendance and betting figures. Horse racing's a big industry in Maryland, but these aren't easy times.

As The Sun's Jon Morgan reported last week, attendance at state tracks is down 16 percent since 1990, and betting's down 9 percent. There are too many other forms of gambling today which have cut into horse racing.

In the face of this, racing officials talk of the need for change. They need a younger crowd, a family crowd. This gets us back to the Preakness infield: Young, yes. But, fit for a family? Maybe the Manson family.

"I've been coming here for 23 years," says one fellow, dodging beer cans strewn all about. "Only missed three Preaknesses in all that time. It was because my kids had Holy Communion," he says.

"And you let that stand in your way?" asks his companion, a young lady with a chest she's showing off like a national monument. "Where are your values, man?"

She's saying it in fun, apparently. And there's plenty of good nature in the infield, plenty of people having a good time at no one's expense. But it's tough to go more than a few yards without the slobs taking over.

Around 3 o'clock Saturday, with the alcohol having had its way, fights began breaking out here and there, drunks taking wild shots at each other. Others would rush to the area then, and more punches were thrown, and entire human tidal waves began to form, until the cops would rush in, a handful here, a handful there, trying to keep things calm.

The most successful Preakness ever? Maybe in money terms. But horse racing's got a lot of problems, and the Preakness infield's no help.


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