The Preakness made a change last year that was both bold and overdue: It ended the BYOB infield. It was a long-standing tradition that brought us memorable feats of drunken stupidity, from the running of the port-a-potties to, legend has it, the attempt to punch a horse in the middle of a race. It was a muddy, foul, debauched mess. Beloved by some, decried by others as a rather poor reflection on the city, it was probably a lawsuit waiting to happen.
The change was not greeted warmly by infield denizens, and attendance for last year's race was the lowest in 25 years and down by more than a third from the previous year.
Even so, it's good to see the Maryland Jockey Club is largely sticking to its guns. The plans for this year's event, released today, continue last year's idea of making the infield a multifaceted entertainment venue in which there's more to do than drink and remove clothing. Not that it's moved completely away from either; there will still be a bikini contest and women's beach volleyball (again with the bikinis), and $1 beer specials starting at 8 a.m.
Tom Chuckas, the head of the jockey club, said in his announcement of the event that organizers had learned from patrons' feedback last year and had adjusted their plans accordingly. The big change that seems to have come as a result is the advent of the $20, all-you-can-drink souvenir beer mug. This innovation pulls the event back in the direction of drunkenness, since proud owners of the souvenir mugs will certainly attempt to get their money's worth, which would require them to drink more than six pints of beer (the equivalent of eight cans) during the day, more if they show up for the early bird specials.
Still, it remains an improvement over the old days. Forcing people to stand in line to get beer is sure to slow down consumption, and the servers will have control over whether to pour more for people who have had too much already.
It's a bit of a step backward in the drive to create a more stately infield, and it remains unlikely that the scene at Pimlico is going to be confused with Churchill Downs any time soon. But considering the second-guessing the jockey club faced after last year's attendance drop, sticking with even a watered down version of the buy-your-own policy remains laudable.
Good call by the Jockey Club.
The souvenir beer mug could become very valuable if this happens to be the last Preakness Stakes held in Baltimore.
I say bring back the wild party days of the Preakness. Some of my fondest memories are from those long days in the infield that I can't really remember too well. I do recall the event was always a great way to kick off the summer.
I just read the obituary of "Chick" Lang in The Sun on Friday. Bring back the good times at Pimlico. Do it for "Chick."