Fans at next year's Preakness will not be allowed to bring alcohol bought outside the track into the grandstand and clubhouse areas of Pimlico Race Course, ending a long-standing tradition.
The change, confirmed yesterday by the Maryland Jockey Club, means that all alcoholic beverages consumed by grandstand and clubhouse patrons will have to be purchased at Pimlico. Spectators will still be allowed to bring beer in cans into the Preakness infield, and racing officials said they aren't considering any changes to that policy.
But the move has already angered some fans.
For the past six Preakness Stakes, Charles Bailey has been responsible for bringing "cheap beer" to the grandstand, where he sits with about 20 friends, he said. Others in his group bring food, which will still be allowed.
"This is terrible," said Bailey, a lawyer who works in Baltimore, adding that the track's higher beer prices will probably cut into some people's wagering.
Mike Gathagan, vice president of communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, said the change would bring the Preakness' alcohol policy in line with the other Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. But a review of their policies shows that no outside alcohol is allowed at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, including the infield areas.
`A different breed'
Gathagan called the Preakness infield "a different breed." About 90,000 spectators typically crowd into Pimlico's infield on the third Saturday in May, with thousands lugging in coolers full of beer, creating a sea of crushed cans by late afternoon.
Asked about the possibility that outside beer would eventually be banned from the infield, Gathagan said, "It's too early to tell, but I would think that's not likely to happen."
Even if the policy change causes some to decide against buying reserved seating in the grandstand or the clubhouse -- ticket prices run from $75 to $135 -- Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, should make up the money in increased alcohol sales, said David Cope, owner of DC Sports, a marketing and management company.
"It's a business decision," he said.
For years, the Preakness' lax alcohol policy has been a drawing card for thousands of spectators.
"That's what makes the Preakness special. It's Baltimore, it should be weird and it should be different," Bailey said.
Last month, past ticketholders were mailed order forms for next year's Preakness that made no mention of the change, although word is slowly spreading.
One ticketholder said he was told when he tried to reorder his tickets by phone that he wouldn't be allowed to bring in alcohol.
`Have to adjust again'
Gathagan said racing officials planned to officially announce the policy change soon. He said he expects the reaction to be similar to what Preakness officials received after implementing new policies after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We made some changes after 9/11 in 2002, and they weren't immediately welcomed," Gathagan said. "In the infield, you couldn't bring in hibachis. It changed a lot of the landscape. People don't like change. But people will have to adjust again."
F. Douglas Reed, director of the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program, said racing officials should expect a backlash when the policy becomes widely publicized.
Spectators have grown accustomed to the previous Preakness rules, he said.
"Anytime you go backward on the patron, you're always going to get negative reaction, especially if you give something and then take it back," Reed said. "Going backward is always difficult because you're taking a right away. They're going to be some fans that don't care, but the ones that do care, they're going to be upset."
Cope said he expects the reaction to be tempered because of whom it affects.
Spectators who sit in the grandstand and clubhouse areas tend to be more focused on the day's racing than the drinking.
"If they were prohibiting bringing [alcohol] in the infield, that would drastically affect their attendance in a negative," Cope said. "The people in infield, that is just a blowout party. It's one day of debauchery each year."
Among other local venues, fans are not allowed to bring alcohol into Ravens games at M&T Bank Stadium. Nonalcoholic beverages and food are allowed to be brought into Orioles games at Camden Yards.
Bailey said he is a racing fan and will attend the 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes despite the policy change.
"I'm the guy who is going to get stuck, because I'm going to go anyway. It just makes me not happy with them," he said.