Preakness celebration up in the air

Balloons to light up the sky at the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival

May 19, 2011

Yes, a thoroughbred racehorse is a magnificent animal, something to behold. But the most impressive sight this weekend may not be occurring at Pimlico at all.

A fleet of spectacular hot-air balloons will rise majestically into the air early Saturday morning at Ellicott City's Turf Valley Country Club, as the climactic event of this year's Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Even though you'll have to get up early to see it (the ascension is set for 6:30 a.m.), the trip should prove worth it. If nothing else, the annual event is a feast for photographers, who will be clicking away furiously as the balloons creep slowly heavenward, the sun rising in the background.

However, if getting yourself up that early is a deal-killer, there's still wonder to be witnessed. The festival runs from 3 p.m.-9 p.m. today, and includes tethered rides for those not afraid of heights, a balloon walk-through for the determinedly earth-bound and a spectacularly lighted display, known as the "Balloon Glow," set for 8:30 p.m.

Today's schedule also includes live music from Bobby B & Friends (5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.), a 6:30 p.m. balloon launch and dance, and martial-arts demonstrations. Food will be available for purchase.

And here's betting more than a few people will be exclaiming "Up, up and away!" as the balloons rise.

The Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival is set for 3 p.m.-9 p.m. today at Turf Valley Country Club, 2700 Turf Valley Road in Ellicott City. Parking today is at the Howard County Fairgrounds, 2210 Fairgrounds Way in West Friendship. The launch is set for 6:30 a.m. Saturday at Turf Valley, with parking on-site. Admission is free, although there is a charge for balloon rides. Information: 410-465-1200 or turfvalley.com.

Chris Kaltenbach

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