Saddling up for all sorts of Preakness fun

Inner Harbor will be site for most prerace activities

May 01, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

This year, for the first time, all major Preakness Celebration events will be held in the City of Baltimore. There will be hot-air balloons over the Inner Harbor, two road races, lots of live music, a Ferris wheel and perennial favorites like the Preakness Parade and the sunset cruise.

Then there is going to be a horse race.

The 127th running of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old thoroughbreds, on May 18 is still the main event of Preakness partying. But the nonprofit Preakness Celebration Inc. is also putting on a week of fun and mostly free events for race fans and for people who don't know a thing about equine bloodlines, betting or black-eyed Susans.

This year, as part of a multiyear plan to make the events leading up to the Preakness bigger and more exciting, organizers are placing most of the activities in or near the Inner Harbor. Preakness Celebration even has a whole new set of upbeat, colorful logos featuring a smiling, galloping cartoon horse to attract a wider audience, including families.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Today section misstated restrictions on coolers and backpacks on Preakness Day at Pimlico. Coolers and backpacks will be permitted in the infield and Turfside Terrace but will not be allowed in the grandstand or clubhouse. The Sun regrets the error.

"Families don't typically go to the Preakness itself," says Paul Wolman, a Preakness Celebration board member. "We want all of Baltimore to experience Preakness."

The hot-air balloon festival, which used to be held at Oregon Ridge in Baltimore County, will be the most noticeable addition to the Inner Harbor. On May 10 and 11, the balloons will be based at Rash Field, where people can enjoy demonstrations, music and food. Both nights the balloons will be illuminated against the Baltimore skyline in a "BalloonGlow" finale. On May 11, there will also be a hot-air balloon competition starting from Druid Hill Park.

Inspired by the popularity of last fall's Baltimore Marathon, organizers have added a 10K race around South Baltimore and Fort McHenry to the annual 5K race. Runners will take off from Rash Field at 8 a.m. on May 11.

Less health-conscious, but still entertaining, are Preakness Pub nights. Starting May 13, a different bar - two in Fells Point, one each in Federal Hill, Mount Washington and Towson - will be host for the event each night through May 17. There will be free admission and drink specials for partygoers over 21 as Pimlico jockeys act as guest bartenders. Proceeds will benefit the Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will be the honorary grand marshal of the Preakness Parade, which will have bands, floats, giant helium balloons and other acts on May 11. Mr. Greengenes, Cracker, Blessed Union of Souls and other bands will entertain at the free "Miller Lite Nites" at Power Plant Live, May 15-17. And popular Preakness events from years past will return, like the annual celebrity crab-picking contest on May 13, Pee Wee Preakness games for children at Federal Hill Park on May 14 and a celebrity crab derby at Lexington Market on May 16.

Full schedules and event details are available online at www.preaknesscelebration.org or by calling 410-837-3030.

All the festivities are capped off by a day of running horses and excited spectators at Pimlico on May 18. Since the first running of the Preakness in 1873, when 12,000 fans watched seven horses race for a purse of $2,050, spectators have grown to more than 90,000 and the prize has reached $1 million.

The Preakness is touted as the largest single sporting event in the mid-Atlantic region, bringing in $52 million in spending to the Baltimore area through the celebration and the race day combined. It also brings plenty of attention to Baltimore.

"Imagine how many cities would line up to be guaranteed a Super Bowl every year," says Mayor Martin O'Malley, "and that's what we have with the Preakness celebration.

"When the dust settles Saturday [after the Kentucky Derby] the eyes of the nation will be on Old Hilltop," O'Malley says, calling Pimlico by a nickname.

The Preakness is a chance for Baltimore to entertain guests and attract both tourists and potential businesses, says City Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, who is on the board of Preakness Celebration. "We are not trying to be the Kentucky Derby," she says, but the organizers are inspired by Louisville's Derby Week extravaganza and "we think we can do more."

With attention comes security concerns, and Pimlico has instituted new security measures such as banning coolers and backpacks, requiring all food be carried in clear containers and searching all cars entering the main gate.

Pre-race celebrations in the Inner Harbor will have both police and private security, says Terry Romanoli, executive director of Preakness Celebration, but no additional limitations or extended screening will be in place for those events.

Celebration organizers are focusing on the positive.

"We want to make Baltimore an exciting, livable place that is filled with opportunities to have a good time," says Wolman. "The unique magic that the Preakness brings provides a perfect opportunity."

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