Ticket sales for the 138th Preakness Stakes are up nearly 10 percent over last year, with some fans excited that the winner of the Kentucky Derby has a connection to Maryland.
Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said Monday that ticket sales for the May 18 event at Pimlico Race Course in North Baltimore have increased about 9.5 percent. All 26 tents in the corporate-sponsored village are sold out, Chuckas said, and the tables in the corporate village are almost gone.
Chuckas said the jump in ticket sales, which suggests this year's race could see attendance rise for the fourth straight year and top the record of 121,309 set in 2012, was likely the result of several factors, including changing the race's "brand."
In 2009, organizers banned beer and other outside beverages from the infield, citing a desire to combat images of excessive drinking there. Attendance dropped that year to 77,850 before rebounding as organizers put more emphasis on attractions such as concerts and volleyball tournaments, and introduced $20 bottomless beer mugs. It reached 107,398 in 2011, before setting the record last year.
"We made a determination it was time to change the brand [and] in 2009, we took a major hit," Chuckas said. "Right now, the brand is strong."
He added: "What you used to see with the Wild West is no longer there."
Some local horse racing fans are snapping up tickets, eager to see Orb, the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Fans said Orb, who is co-owned by Baltimore County resident Stuart Janney III, gives some Baltimore-area residents a sense of ownership.
"People really feel like it's their horse," said Dabney Porte, a Bel Air native. "Whenever it's a national or global event but you can relate to it on a hometown level, I think that gets everyone excited."
Porte, who works in social media, said she's seen a lot of buzz online about Orb and the Preakness. She hasn't bought a ticket yet but wants to go to the event and tweet to her audience from it.
"It's hot for me, so I want to make it hot for everyone else," she said.
Chuckas declined to say how many tickets have been sold to date for the Triple Crown race but said the total number of tickets available is about the same as last year.
General admission tickets to the Preakness, which do not include seating, are $25 apiece, and infield tickets are $50 each through May 11 and $60 from May 12 until race day. Tickets may be purchased at the Pimlico ticket office, by calling 410-542-9400, or online at ticketfly.com.
Richard Hoffberger, on the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said a lot of people in the local horse business know Janney and think highly of him, which has generated additional interest in the race.
"Everybody looks for a local connection," he said. "I would expect with local ownership, it's going to create some more buzz."
With a victory in the Preakness, Orb would have a chance to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown — victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont — since Affirmed in 1978.
Chuckas said 50 percent of all tickets are sold from the Monday after the Kentucky Derby until the Preakness.
Companies such as Under Armour, Toyota and Mitsubishi are represented in the corporate village. "We have fit in all the tents we can," Chuckas said.
He said there are several important variables that still could affect attendance. One is the weather — last year was sunny.
"We're trending to be at that  level," Chuckas said. "Obviously, we would like to surpass last year."
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