The two personalities of Preakness

There's partying in the infield and prim celebration in the pavilion

here's what to expect in both places

May 14, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

Every May, Pimlico hosts one of Baltimore's most striking juxtapositions: Thousands of infield revelers guzzle beer and soak in live music while a stone's throw away, the prim and proper set sip Black-Eyed Susans and don fancy hats.

It's hard to imagine a more polarized scene. That's Preakness for you.

This year, all eyes are on the infield. After the Maryland Jockey Club banned the long-standing BYOB policy last year, infield attendance plummeted. Now, the club is trying to lure back partyers with a bottomless-mug special, a younger-skewing live-music lineup and a controversial ad campaign.

While it's hard to predict how many people will show at Preakness on Saturday, here is what you can expect from the infield and the pavilion — the two sides to this year's Preakness.

The infield

What to expect: For decades, the infield was an infamous pit, with folks guzzling beer and hurling cans into the air like mortar rounds. During the so-called Running of the Urinals, blitzed partyers scampered across rows of Porta-Potties while bystanders lobbed beers at them. But after organizers banned outside beverages last year, the place was deserted. You could walk around blindfolded and not bump into anybody. While the new bottomless-mug deal and live music lineup are sure to lure some people back, the infield is bound to be a tamer, more controlled atmosphere than in in the old days.

What to bring: Sunscreen is a must — especially if you plan on spending all day in the infield. Baseball hats are a good bet, too. While outside beverages (including water) are still off-limits, food items carried in coolers and backpacks are allowed. Thermoses, and coolers larger than 28 inches long by 15 inches wide by 17 inches tall, are not allowed.

What to see: This year's musical lineup, which features the Zac Brown Band and O.A.R., is sure to appeal to more people than last year's. Be prepared to bounce between the two stages at either end of the infield, because none of the performances will overlap. Each band will play a full set — unlike last year, when some of the shows were cut short to accommodate the races.

DJ Yummy gets things rolling at 8 a.m., Mr. Greengenes goes on at 9 a.m. and the music continues until 5:30 p.m. Need more entertainment? The infield will also have an oxygen bar, air hockey, beer pong, a tent offering wagering advice, a volleyball tournament, bikini contest and scavenger hunt. They're also giving away prizes, including iPods, iPads and meet-and-greets with the bands.

What it costs: Infield tickets are $40 in advance and $50 the day of the event. Bottomless mugs will cost an extra $20. If the mug club isn't your thing but you still want to drink cheap, get there early: From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., beers are $1. Or, you could pay $110 for Top of the Stretch seats, a reserved section with bleachers and bathrooms.

What to eat and drink: If you opt for the 16-ounce bottomless mugs, you can fill them with Budweiser beers at three areas — one in the middle of the infield and one by each of the two stages. Organizers think the refill lines will have a five- to 10-minute wait. The food menu for this year's infield party is much bigger than last year's, with outside vendors serving ribs, jambalaya, soft-shell crabs, cheese steaks, burritos, burgers and more. Sounds like the infield might have better food options than the pavilion. If liquor is your thing, the infield will also have Jagermeister, Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels drinks for sale.

The pavilion

What to expect: The more things change in the infield, the more they stay the same in the pavilion. Aside from the International Pavilion, which features fancy food and drinks for dignitaries, there aren't many new bells and whistles in the pavilion proper this year. If it ain't broke … you know. The Preakness Village, nestled into a patch of the infield, will have seating with tablecloths, folded napkins and other signs of civility.

What to bring: If you don't have a colorful spring dress and an outrageous hat, you'll need to pick one up pronto. Many of the rich ladies will be donning jewels, gloves and hats big enough to strain their necks. Golf claps are encouraged after the races. Loud claps are uncouth.

What to see: Your line of sight will vary on your location, but one thing's fairly certain — you're going to have a better view of the race than most of the folks in the infield. The pavilion is split into a few sections, from the tiered grandstand to the Preakness Village. This side of Preakness is a see-and-be-seen event, with socialites from all over the region dropping by to hobnob.

What it costs: Two-day passes for the Club House Box and Grandstand Apron Box are sold out, but plenty of other options are still available. General admission, which gets you standing room in the grandstand or concourse, costs $25. Admission to the Grandstand Apron Box is $100, Grandstand Concourse Box is $90 and Grandstand Concourse is $75. Premium packages, including the Clubhouse Turn, Turfside Terrace, Clubhouse Turn and Turf Club Tent, range from $130 to $575.

What to eat and drink: Everybody has to have at least one Black-Eyed Susan. They are Maryland's mint julep, after all. Made with shots of bourbon and vodka, a splash of orange juice and sweet-and-sour mix, it's garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. Pimlico serves Black-Eyed Susans in 10-ounce commemorative highball glasses, filled with crushed ice, for $8 each. You can get the same ingredients in the infield, but instead of a glass, the Susans are served in plastic cups (for obvious reasons).

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