The second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown is almost afoot and I'm still trying to get my Preak on, but you know how that goes. It's a little like finding your old college letterman's jacket and trying to fit back into it.
If you don't get the whole "Preak" thing, it means that you'll either be wearing loafers in the box seats at Old Hilltop or a big floppy hat that cost so much you'll try for years to come up with one more excuse to wear it in public.
There has been so much emphasis on the edgy advertising campaign ("Get Your Preak On") and the annual infield controversy that the 135th Preakness Stakes — the reason for the season — has almost gotten lost in the translation. There's going to be a very good horse race late Saturday afternoon, which might set the stage for the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
That's the bottom line here, but you would never know it by the buildup, which has again morphed into a local and national referendum on the state of Maryland racing and the image of the city of Baltimore.
Want an example?
ESPN's Pat Forde latched onto the slogan controversy this week and used it to put the Preakness very much in its place:
"The Preakness and its host track, Pimlico Race Course, are about as classy as a neck tattoo. Don't get me wrong — it can be a fun event, and a lot of the employees work very hard, and they generally stage a great race. But if you believe the Preakness is a highbrow endeavor, you also believe "Jersey Shore" is on par with the great PBS documentaries.
"If the Triple Crown were a cocktail circuit, the Preakness would be the kegger that ends in a fistfight and a visit from the cops."
I'd like to say that's a cheap shot, but the infield party this year actually is going to be a kegger and there undoubtedly will be some fisticuffs, so the only thing I can take offense to is the gratuitous comparison to New Jersey. You people with neck tattoos will have to speak for yourselves.
Once again, however, the buildup to the big race seems less newsworthy than the prospect for renewed rowdiness on the infield, which is certainly a huge part of the event — and a big revenue generator — but should not diminish the efforts of the horsemen or 135 years of grand racing tradition.
The infield might be an island of out-of-control revelry, but the grandstands and the corporate tents are still the place to be for the who's who of the Mid-Atlantic region. And the race still puts a positive image of Baltimore in front of an international television audience that generally gets its impression of Charm City from reruns of "The Wire" or "Homicide: Life on the Streets."
There really is something at Pimlico for everyone. The real gamblers will queue up at the betting windows early to beat the late-afternoon crowds. The upper crust will sip on pricy black-eyed Susans and party like it's 1925. The infield infidels will rock out to the Zac Brown Band and O.A.R. on the main stage or check out Mr. Greengenes, Collective Soul and country rocker Jason Michael Carroll at the Beer Garden Jagermeister Stage.
The Maryland Jockey Club can be forgiven for testing the boundaries of good taste with its "Get Your Preak On" campaign after last year's decision to ban outside alcoholic beverages caused a huge drop in attendance. The play on words is a fairly blatant sexual double entendre that summons images of top-popping young women and drunken metalheads, but it's relatively mild stuff in the Internet age.
Truth is, the Preakness is the only thing keeping Maryland horse racing alive, so if it takes extreme measures to keep the sport breathing, then pass the bottomless beer mug and the occasional topless coed, and we in the post-Preak generation can feign righteous outrage and wear mirrored sunglasses so no one can see us looking.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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