The Freakness Stakes

The one where 115,000 people go to Pimlico and never see a horserace

May 17, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun reporter

Horses? What horses?

From the infield, the running of the Preakness Stakes is merely a side note - an excuse for tens of thousands to flood Pimlico and throw down all day.

"I could probably name two horses a year, probably just the favorites," said Paul Sylvester, a 24-year-old engineer who went the past three years. "Most of the time you go, you're not really sure the race is on."

More than 115,000 people came to last year's race, which made it the highest-attended sporting event in the state, officials said.

On Saturday, race day, the infield starts filling up at 8 a.m., when the gates open and patrons run through a tunnel and stake out spots on the grass.

About a dozen races are run throughout the day. The main event starts about 6 p.m. But unless infielders make the extra effort to get near the railing, most won't catch more than a glimpse of a horse or two all day. Instead, they'll put most of their efforts toward debauchery.

"It's a complete freak show, from beginning to end," said 23-year-old Steve Torre, an engineer who lives in Arlington.

Torre went last year and isn't sure whether he'll go back. If he does, it will be for the party - not the racing.

"I didn't see one horse while I was there," he said.

The Preakness parking situation just adds to the madness. Any available spot within walking distance is considered prime real estate, and Pimlico Race Course neighbors sell front-yard parking to Preakness celebrants.

But the Preakness does have a serious, positive impact on the reputation and finances of the state. Last year, it generated about $30 million in economic impact, said Hannah Byron, an assistant secretary at the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Saturday's race is the 132nd running of the Preakness Stakes. After so many years, "the Preakness is much more than a horse race," said Louis J. Raffetto Jr., the president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.

"The last 20 years have shown what a race such as the Preakness can mean and will continue to mean to the city of Baltimore. To all of us and people around the country, Preakness is Baltimore, and Baltimore is Preakness."

The Preakness Celebration continues through Saturday.

Free guided stable-area tours of Pimlico, discussions with racing experts and a look at the morning workouts are 6 a.m.-9 a.m. through tomorrow. Celebrity jockeys will be at Pimlico to sign autographs at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow. Experts will offer insights and advice at the Daily Racing Form Handicapping Seminar at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call 410-542-9400 or go to preak

Power Plant Live hosts two free concerts as part of its Miller Lite Nites series. Rock group Papa Roach plays tonight and local rock favorites Mr. Greengenes perform tomorrow. Both shows are 21 and older and start at 8 p.m.

Also today, local celebrities will sponsor crabs in the Preakness Crab Derby at noon at Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington St. For more information, call 410-685-6169 or go to

At 6:30 p.m. today and 6:30 a.m. tomorrow and Saturday, a group of hot air balloons will lift off from Oregon Ridge Park, at 13401 Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville. Tomorrow night, the balloon operators will stay grounded but will light their burners to illuminate the balloons and the city waterfront as part of the Dusk Balloon Glow.

Balloons will also stand up and possibly take off from Turf Valley Resort, 2700 Turf Valley Road in Ellicott City at 6:30 a.m. today.

At 6 p.m. tomorrow, the Crawdaddies will open for party act Buckwheat Zydeco at Lancaster Street and South Central Avenue in Harbor East. The event, called "Twas the Night Before Preakness," is free. Fireworks will explode over the waterfront when the show ends about 9:15 p.m.

Gates at Pimlico open at 8 a.m. Saturday. The Preakness Stakes is run about 6 p.m. Infield tickets are $45 in advance and $60 race day. Clubhouse general admission is $25. Pimlico Race Course is at 5201 Park Heights Ave. For tickets, call 410-547-SEAT or visit For race information, call 410-542-9400 or go to

What's allowed

Here's a list of items you can and cannot bring into the infield, courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club:


Beer, wine and soda, in plastic containers or regular-size cans

Picnic lunches

Beach blankets

Suntan lotion

Cell phones

Cameras up to 35mm, camcorders and binoculars

Lightweight plastic lawn chairs






Hibachis or barbecues



Metal furniture, folding or non

Hand carts or wheeled carts

Glass containers

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