Fans cope with heat, but few tempers flare

Record crowd focused on staying cool

police say only two arrests made

Notebook

Preakness Stakes

May 16, 2004|By Justin Fenton and Kevin Van Valkenburg | Justin Fenton and Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

The sun was blazing hot, the air was thick and humid, and the infield, as usual, was good and rowdy yesterday at the 129th Preakness.

The steamy weather was in stark contrast to last year's race, a cold and rainy affair that helped keep the fans and the horses cool. But this year's Preakness, which had a record crowd of 112,668 at Pimlico Race Course, forced fans to find creative ways to beat the heat.

Fans in the infield dumped coolers on each other as if they'd just won the Super Bowl, and plenty of party-goers lounged in inflatable swimming pools filled with ice water and cold beer.

"This is the best weather you could ask for," said Vicki Inskeep, 50, of Parkville, who strolled around in a yellow bikini through the beer-can littered grass. "Being my age, it's nice to able to walk around like this."

Philadelphia resident Mike Graham, 22, said his pool was full of water when he arrived at 9:30 a.m., but by 11:30 it was just a mass of empty beer cans.

Weisun Teh kept cool by stealing ice out of a stranger's cooler and sliding it across his neck. Teh, 23, made the trip from Boston College, where he is studying abroad from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

"This is way past my expectations," he said. "This is as American as it gets. I haven't even seen a horse race yet."

There were plenty of distractions. Young women stood on coolers and lifted up their shirts to the delight of drunken voyeurs, and plenty of young couples swapped saliva, while others ended up sunburned, passed out and face down in the infield grass.

Still, Carl Gutberlet, the chief of patrol of the Baltimore City police, said the infield crowd, an estimated 87,000, was more subdued this year compared to previous years. Officially, there were 55 ejections yesterday, but only two arrests were made for disorderly behavior. Gutberlet attributed the low number of arrests to the private security firm that policed the infield for the second year in a row.

Anytime a fight looked like it was about to break out, as many as 10 large security workers dressed in red shirts, red hats and black pants would arrive to calm the situation, or if necessary, use force to separate people.

"You know when you take children to the circus and there's three rings?" said event staff worker Tracey Satterwhite. "You got to keep them entertained so they don't hurt each other. When they're bored, it's on."

Plenty of people tried to shield themselves from the sun with big hats or umbrellas, but to no avail.

"I'm a fair [-skinned] girl, and I have sunblock on, but I can't take it, it's unbearable," said Jackie Murphy, 21, a Towson University student from Edison, N.J., who took refuge in the shade of the infield tunnel.

Celebrity request

As Pimlico's director of broadcasting and communications the past four years, Mike Gathagan is used to the different requests he receives this time of year.

A phone call yesterday morning from actress Tara Reid topped the list.

"Tara wanted to come to the Preakness and Tara didn't care how she got in. I wasn't able to give her a media pass, but we were able to hook her up to the right person," he said.

Reid wasn't the only big name in attendance. Former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken was spotted having a long conversation with Kendel Ehrlich, wife of Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The governor spent much of the afternoon meeting and greeting business figures.

The media were out in full force as well. More than 1,700 credentials were issued for yesterday's race, 150 more than last year.

"Smarty Jones-mania is running wild," Gathagan said. "We normally have two people from Philadelphia covering the Preakness - one from each paper - but this year there was around 100."

Medical challenges

The hot weather presented a litany of challenges for emergency medical staff in attendance. Alan Shankroff, of Life- Star First Response, said he and his staff got to Pimlico at 5 a.m. yesterday, and throughout the day, the 12 paramedics and 20 emergency medical technicians treated 79 people for various maladies, and ended up transporting 42 of them to the hospital by ambulance.

"That makes it a banner year for us," Shankroff said. "We were transporting people right up to the very end, with was very unusual for us. Most of it was heat-related."

Shankroff said LifeStar also treated some broken bones, but the second-most common injury besides the heat was a sprained ankle.

"I tell people to try and stick to the concrete paths," Shankroff said. "When you start walking through the grass, you've got so many beer cans, coolers and trash, it's easy to turn an ankle."

Talking business

While many of the guests in the VIP area came for the racing and the social scene, others were there on business.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said he spent a "very fruitful afternoon" promoting the port and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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