Preakness receives security upgrade

Track unveils policies for Triple Crown event

May 01, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Expect more police and fewer coolers at this year's Preakness Stakes as organizers try to reconcile heightened security with a traditional day of revelry.

The thoroughbred horse race has not been designated as a National Special Security Event, as were the most recent Olympic games and Super Bowl. But federal authorities have participated in security planning, said Joseph A. De Francis, majority owner and president of Pimlico Race Course, where the race is to be run on May 18.

"In light of 9-11, every major sporting event has adjusted its security procedures and we are no different," said De Francis, who held a news conference yesterday to announce precautions for the track in northwest Baltimore.

The result is procedures that are stricter than in past years, but not as restrictive as those being employed for the Kentucky Derby. At that race, to be run in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday, fans will not be permitted to bring any can or bottles - even suntan lotion.

Preakness patrons will be permitted to bring lotion as well as beverages, including beer and wine, as long as they are in plastic containers or regular-sized cans. No glass will be permitted.

Coolers, backpacks and thermos containers will be permitted in the infield and Turfside Terrace. In a break with tradition, they will not be allowed in the grandstand or clubhouse.

Instead, brown baggers in the grandstand and clubhouse will have to carry food and drinks in clear plastic bags or see-through plastic containers - such as those available at craft and office supply stores - that measure no larger than 18 inches by 18 inches. The track will sell ice at a discount price and is considering stocking inexpensive coolers so that fans, once through the gates, can keep their consumables cool.

Extra concession stands also will be opened.

Handcarts and wheeled carts will be turned back at the gates. Baby carriages will be allowed only if occupied by babies.

As in past years, people won't be permitted to bring weapons, liquor or drugs.

All bags, purses and containers brought to the track on Preakness Day, and Black-Eyed Susan Day on May 17, will be subject to search. Cars and trucks will also be searched as they pass through the main gate at Hayward and Winner avenues. Commercial deliveries will be kept to a minimum on Preakness day.

The track has added a 13th race to the day's card, with the first going off early, at 10:30 a.m., to encourage fans to arrive early and ease the crush of security searches. Gates will open at 8 a.m., a half-hour earlier than in previous years.

The Preakness, which, along with the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, constitute racing's vaunted "Triple Crown," will run shortly after 6 p.m.

"We're trying to have a minimum of hassles so people can have a good time as has been the tradition since 1873," De Francis said.

He said no specific threat to the race has been received.

His sister, Karin De Francis, senior vice president of public relations and marketing, said advance ticket sales have been strong and do not reflect any fear of terrorism.

"I don't think anyone's fun or enjoyment is going to be in any way affected," she said.

Baltimore Police Col. John McEntee said additional officers, both uniformed and plain-clothes, will be on the ground and overhead in helicopters. National Guard soldiers will also be more numerous and conspicuous - and more heavily armed. Some on the track's perimeter will tote semi-automatic rifles instead of the sidearms utilized in past years, McEntee said.

All track employees and backstretch workers will be required to wear photo identification cards. Some, but not all, fans will be searched with a hand-held metal detector.

"There will be slight delays that you are not accustomed to," McEntee said.

Outside, traffic patterns will be altered. Segments of Rogers, Winner and Hayward avenues will be restricted to one-way traffic for the day. Parking laws will be vigorously enforced.

Airspace above the track will be tightly controlled. Planes, helicopters and blimps within a circular zone three nautical miles in diameter and 3,000 feet in height will be required to have transponders and obtain advance permission from flight traffic controllers, said Arlene Salac, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

"If someone violates that and goes through, they would most likely be intercepted by some type of military aircraft," Salac said.

Jim Mackin, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said neither the Preakness nor Kentucky Derby were designated National Special Security Events - a decision that is made by the secretaries of Homeland Defense and Treasury in conjunction with the attorney general. Security for events getting that designation is coordinated, and partly paid for, by the Secret Service.

Joseph De Francis said he considered requesting that designation. "We looked into it but didn't push for it because we thought it would be futile" given that a request on behalf of the Kentucky Derby had been denied, he said.

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