Despite the building anticipation of a classic horse race with a compelling story line, this year's Preakness comes with a triple whammy of potential party poopers.
If the economy were not enough to dampen the festivities - and it is - there's also the bankruptcy of Pimlico Race Course's owner and the resulting questions over the race's future. Then there's that beer thing - a newly adopted ban on bringing your own brew to the infield that many former Preakness fans find as palatable as a warm Natty Boh.
Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said ticket sales are picking up after a slow start, particularly since star filly Rachel Alexandra entered the field of challengers to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. He foresees a drop in sales of about 10 percent to 12 percent but still expects to hit the magic attendance number of 100,000.
On Wednesday morning, preparations for the 134th running of the Preakness Stakes were in full swing at Pimlico under the type of bright blue skies that would swell the turnout if they return Saturday. The Weather Channel was predicting isolated thunderstorms.
Landscaping crew leader Mike Butina was waiting for delivery of the black-eyed Susans that would complete the decoration of the winner's circle. Temporary worker William Robinson was cleaning row after row of gold-colored seats in the grandstand. At the far end of the track Tim Oettel and two colleagues were preparing to bolt the giant Preakness logo to the starting gate.
But over at the beach volleyball court, where workers were taking a break from the task of smoothing out the fine sand to cushion the players' falls, Eddie Miller and Kevin Davis were worrying that this Preakness could be their last at Pimlico. And in the corporate area, workers were noticing that the tents were smaller and spaced out a bit more than at past Preaknesses.
Chuckas said he expects a "significant" drop in corporate business - much like that which occurred in the post-9/11 doldrums of 2002.
"It's going to be more than any business would like," he said.
Among those cutting back their presence will be the State of Maryland, which has had to slash spending to balance its budget. According to Karen Glenn-Hood, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the agency has reduced the number of guests it has invited from about 120 last year to about 40 this spring.
Chuckas realizes that the change in the infield rules, which affects all bottled beverages and not just beer, is a significant one and that "some are not happy." But he promises that the infield festivities will still be enjoyable even if the higher cost of drinking tones down some of the shenanigans.
But while Chuckas and others see a drop in drunkenness, fighting and lewd behavior as a good thing, many younger revelers see those diversions as their Preakness.
Several groups have popped up on social media sites such as Facebook urging a boycott of this year's race.
The creator of one group, Towson University junior Brian Taylor, laments a rule change he calls "the death of Preakness."
"Gone are the glorious baby pools full of cold refreshing beers, the port-a-pot races, the beer wars," writes Taylor, 21. "No longer can people chant 'show us your [breasts]!' and pelt beer cans until we see them. No more beer showers, shotgun contests, and wondering if we will ever even see a horse."
In years past, fraternities at Towson have hired buses to transport students to the racetrack. This year, Taylor knows of none that is doing so.
Also planning to stay away is 25-year-old Kate Helfrich of Canton, who attended last year and had a great time. It's not just the beer rule change, though she doesn't like that, but what she fears will be a more "corporate" vibe. "It just seems like it's going to be a downer this year."
For some young people, it doesn't help that Pimlico management booked as its lead musical act ZZ Top - a 1970s-era band whose members sport beards older than Helfrich and her peers.
But for folks like Tom Stidman, 31, the end of bring-your-own-beer is a welcome development. The Aberdeen man is planning on attending and will bring his 72-year-old mother - something he wouldn't have considered with the same drunken conduct in the infield.
"I partly decided to renew my ticket and add a ticket because of the change in policy," he said. "The Preakness was getting too rowdy and dangerous for those in the infield."
For actual fans of horse racing, this year's Preakness is shaping up as a great event. Lori Voelz of Baltimore is looking forward to the race even more than last year.
"While last year I was excited because Big Brown was such a cinch, meaning that we could look forward to a Triple Crown try, I'm excited this year because it looks like it'll be just a damn good horse race," said Voelz.