Preakness horseplay

May 18, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Everyone who goes to Preakness comes back with one or two crazy stories.

Most of them are R-rated, and few actually mention the race itself. For most of the crowd, Preakness is a massive, glorified frat party on steroids. And after Saturday's celebration, another round of outrageous tales will come to life.

Gates open at 8 a.m., but the parking-spot search starts hours before. Neighborhood residents hawk spots on their lawns and driveways, with the houses closest to Pimlico charging the highest prices. People usually end up a good distance from the racetrack and pay locals to haul their food and beer coolers in dollies and shopping carts.

At 8 a.m. (the big race doesn't start until 6 p.m.), people flood through a tunnel onto the infield, claim a patch of grass and set up camp.

"It's like the running of the bulls when they open those gates, and they run under the tunnel and up into the infield to get their spots," said Pimlico spokesman Mike Gathagan.

Then, the debauchery begins. There are 13 races throughout the day, but some people will miss them all. Others muscle their way up near the track and catch five seconds of the two-minute race as the horses thunder past their section of infield fence.

"They're flying by," said 21-year-old Mike Mulhern, a College Park resident. Saturday will be his fourth Preakness. "You don't even realize how fast they're going."

David Floyd, 29-year-old United Kingdom native who lives in Baltimore, went for the first time last year and was shocked.

"I thought it would be slightly upscale," Floyd said. "I've seen horse races in Britain. We went and got a picnic - roast chicken and nice wine and nice beers and stuff - and it was utter carnage. Everyone was confused about why we got nice beers instead of Miller Lite."

Floyd and his friends joined an infield mass of about 90,000 people - a total of more than 115,000 if you include the grandstand and other seats.

Fans have different reasons for forking over more than $40 for infield access, but here's one that keeps coming up: Preakness is one of those things you have to do at least once in your life.

"It's just a rite of spring in Baltimore," Gathagan said. "If you live around here or you grew up here and you've never been to a Preakness, what are you waiting for?"

Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday. The Preakness Stakes is run at about 6 p.m. Infield tickets are $45 in advance and $55 the day of Preakness. Clubhouse general admission is $20. Pimlico Race Course is at 5201 Park Heights Ave. For tickets, call 410-547-SEAT or visit ticketmaster.com. For race information, call 410-542-9400 or visit preakness.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Race day dos and don'ts

Here's a guide to what you should and should not bring into the infield at Preakness:

Allowed:

coolers smaller than 28 inches long by 15 inches wide by 17 inches tall

backpacks

thermoses

beer, wine and soda in plastic bottles or normal-sized cans

food in clear plastic bags or containers

beach blankets

sunscreen

cell phones, cameras up to 35 mm, binoculars and camcorders

light plastic lawn chairs

Prohibited:

liquor

drugs

weapons

tents

barbeques or hibachis

kegs or keg balls of beer

metal furniture

carts

glass bottles or any other glass containers

ladders or scaffolding

[ [MARYLAND JOCKEY CLUB]]

Preakness events

Preakness Celebration continues with two free concerts at Power Plant Live for the 21-and-older crowd. Puddle of Mudd plays at 8 p.m. tonight, and Faded Image performs at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

At noon today, Lexington Market hosts the Preakness Crab Derby. The market is at 400 W. Lexington St. Call 410-685-6169.

Weather permitting, 15 balloons will launch from Oregon Ridge Park at 6:30 p.m. today and 6:30 a.m. tomorrow and Saturday for the Preakness Balloon Fest. Each flight there lasts about an hour. Tomorrow, the balloons will also lift off from the Inner Harbor's Rash Field at dusk for the Balloon Moon Glow. Flames from the balloons' burners will illuminate the inner-city sky.

Irish band Donegal X-Press plays a free show at Belvedere Square 6 p.m.-9 p.m. tomorrow.

See fireworks over the Inner Harbor at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Pimlico holds a free open house with tours 6 a.m.-9 a.m. today and tomorrow. Also tomorrow, learn wagering tips, meet jockeys and authors and see races at Pimlico at the race course's Preakness Eve. This event starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $3.

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