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Preakness sends a mixed message, but gets the right result

Ticket sales rise 17 percent as organizers court traditional racing fans and young people alike

May 10, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

"Our main audience this past weekend was vying for who had the most beautiful hat, the most lavish tailgate," she said. "Very different from the Preakness messaging."

Chuckas defended it and described it as "very successful."

"It did exactly what we wanted it to do," he said. In response to questions that Kegasus promotes drinking, he said, "If all I wanted to do was promote drinking, I wouldn't have spent the funds I spent to provide the entertainment out there."

He said Kegasus was a component of a larger strategy that also included an appeal to older fans of Preakness.

Train, a staple of adult-contemporary radio stations, will perform before Bruno Mars, who is only 25. At Pimlico's grandstand and the corporate village, there will be high-end vendors — a cigar company, luxury hats, cosmetics, a health bar — as well as tents for The New York Times and the Maryland Lottery.

"When you start looking at the corporate village, Turfside Terrace, the dining room, that age group has a more traditional history with racing, and they're looking for the grandeur of racing, the socializing with their friends for the day," Chuckas said.

The balancing act has not turned off sponsors and has not alarmed police.

There will be several hundred policemen on the scene, uniformed and in plainclothes, as well as undercover officers in the infield, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. But police are not expecting a repeat of the "The Running of the Urinals." This year, there's more concern about people illegally charging for off-site parking.

HRTV, the horse racing network, will return as a sponsor again, said president Jim Bates, who, when asked if Kegasus had turned off his network, said, "The infield is immaterial to what we do. The pluses [of sponsoring Preakness] far outweigh the minuses."

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and the Maryland Lottery will share a corporate tent, and have spent a combined $89,000 on tickets for 150 guests, said Karen Glenn Hood director of media relations at the department.

Equally giddy about the race are the party bus companies.

Virginia company Chariots for Hire, which has had Preakness buses from Washington to Baltimore since 2004, anticipates five buses of about 40 people each will go this year, said operations manager Patrick Fortkort.

Boomerang, which has been ferrying people to the races for four years, will take about 150 this year, owner Nikki DuBois said.

DuBois said many of her customers "boycotted" the race and her business to protest the dry Infield in 2009.

But the Mug Club, the concerts featuring current bands, and the friendlier infield have brought them back, she said. Though she had avoided the infield for years because it was too "dangerous," she started going in 2009 because it had changed since her college days.

"It attracts a different group. They're a little dressier, people feel a bit safer," she said. "You can feel you're in a college campus where there's a big tailgate, but it's not so crowded that you'd feel out of place in your 70s."



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