The 100,000 or more race watchers will consume 12,000 crab cakes during the Preakness, according to Maryland Turf Caterers Inc., which prepares all of the food at Pimlico Race Course. And 9,000 of those crab cakes will be eaten by the 4,000 people in the corporate village.
Women wear dresses, men wear jackets, and the crowd is littered with people at the top of the social and political heap. Maryland's governor and U.S. senators sometimes attend. WBAL-TV will invite top advertisers. The state Department of Agriculture will be the host for two delegations of Korean horsemen looking to buy Maryland thoroughbreds.
"I call it an elegant lawn party," said Gloria Cinquegrani, who coordinates the corporate village for Pimlico. "It really is Maryland's premier event."
Cinquegrani declined to reveal the names of the companies that rent tents in the corporate village, mostly to protect them from would-be socialites who pester for coveted tickets.
But the company's identities were easily discerned through interviews with local businessmen and marketing executives.
None of the corporate tent renters contacted would reveal precisely how much they spend at the Preakness, however.
An official with The Sun would say only that the newspaper will spend less than $100,000 for its two tents this year - and that it spent more than $100,000 for four tents in previous years.
But the advertised rate for a 30-by-30-foot infield tent, which accommodates 75 to 100 people, is $30,000, not counting the catering bill. Food and drinks typically cost another $10,000 to $12,000 for each tent.
High-end upgrades - like a raw bar or Haagen-Dazs sundaes - add a few thousand dollars more.
And many companies boost the cost still higher with things like gift bags or complimentary transportation.
The Sun was the first company to host a corporate tent at the Preakness, and its party has grown to become one of the largest and most exclusive in the infield. But with advertising revenue down, newspaper executives considered abandoning the Preakness party altogether this year. They ultimately decided only to scale back.
"There are some events that become embedded into the spirit and the life of a community, and clearly the Preakness is in that league," said Mireille Grangenois, vice president of marketing and interactive media for The Sun. "It's important and appropriate that The Sun be involved."
Not every company reached the same conclusion. Constellation Energy, whose earnings have slipped with the weak economy and the energy industry's doldrums, said it could no longer justify the expense.
"This year the Preakness didn't make sense," said Constellation spokeswoman Nancy H. Caplan. "It does become a matter of budget. We've gone through a number of large cost reductions this year, and this wasn't one of the things we wanted to continue paying for."
But Constellation seems to be an exception. Pimlico officials say interest in next year's race is already high.
"If you're high society in Baltimore, that's the place to be. And for some companies it might be the best marketing investment they can make, even in a bad economy," said Rick Burton, executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.
"Sure, you might drop 50 grand, but it's a once-a-year opportunity to get your best customers or clients together and offer them a meeting that they won't, or can't, refuse."