At Saturday's Preakness Stakes, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom will be the horse to beat among the field of 14 3-year-olds.
But while the racing is the grand spectacle to most at storied Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, there will be a crowd of approximately 40,000 parked inside the oval that, for the most part, has little idea that horses are even competing.
Welcome to the Preakness infield, a Woodstock-like party in which almost anything goes. It has been affectionately labeled the “The People’s Party.”
“The People’s Party is like no other,” said Joe Lenceski, a stone mason from Pennsylvania who first attended in 1994. “This scene was like nothing I had ever witnessed before, and, undoubtedly, one of the best times I have ever had.”
Also dubbed by locals as the “Biggest Outdoor Frat Party in the World,” the Preakness infield crowd includes a diverse group, with professionals, racing fans, college students and even some families. It’s typically a fun-seeking, younger crowd, but there are plenty of veterans who have been partaking in the celebration for decades. The array of outfits and costumes is befitting for a carnival.
Kegasus, the controversial half horse, half man Preakness mascot.
Many will be well-inebriated hours before the Preakness is run. It’s not your average day at the racetrack. It certainly isn't a place for children.
The R rated version of the early to mid-90s infield featured masses of alcohol, blatant and abundant nudity and numerous fights. Patrons wheeled shopping carts or wagons filled with cases, or even small kegs, of beer into the entrance. Anything but glass was allowed.
As a result of the infield mayhem, some major security issues surfaced, including in 1999 when a man staggered his way onto the track during the running of an undercard race.
As the field reached midstretch, he was a few paths off the rail and threw punches at the air as the field of eight horses charged right at him. All of the horses and riders avoided contact.
In 2009, the BYOB policy ceased as infield patrons had to pay for beer. The policy change devastated Pimlico’s attendance, which dipped to 77,850, a drop of more than 34,000.
Pimlico officials quickly realized that they had gone too far and adjusted their policy for 2010, implementing unlimited re-fill beer mugs for $20. They advertised that the Preakness infield party was back and attendance jumped to 95,760, a 23 percent increase from ’09.
The 2010 infield scene featured more security and much-improved dining options and beverage stands. But the insanity still existed. You could still witness the “Toilet Run,” also known as the running of the urinals, where participants must dash across the top of numerous porta-potties while getting pelted with objects from onlookers. There also were passed-out people all over the ground, some fighting and, of course, women flashing their bare-skinned chests.
Pimlico is trying to reach a balance for infield visitors interested in more than just a drunkfest. This year, Grammy Winners Bruno Mars and Train highlight the infield entertainment. Other events include the Great Pony Pig Out (competitive eating of Apple Pie, Carrot Cake and Oatmeal Cookies) and the Jagermeister Cornhole Tournament.
But the mascot for 2011 infield is the controversial Kegasus, a half-man, half-horse Centaurian creature and self-proclaimed “Lord of the InfieldFEST.”
Some feel that this is sending the wrong message, encouraging alcohol consumption through a beer-bellied marketing tool. Others salute the move for helping restore the party tradition back to the Pimlico infield.
For $70, you get admission to the infield, unlimited beer, live music, a wide variety of local and traditional food and people watching. Oh, and you just might catch a glimpse of Animal Kingdom on one of the many televisions.
Most of the discussion in the aftermath of Oxbow's Preakness victory involved either explaining away why Orb lost or downplaying why Oxbow won. But Oxbow was plenty impressive.
Trainer Shug McGaughey is still thinking Belmont Stakes for his Kentucky Derby winner after Orb galloped a mile Thursday morning at Belmont Park.
Fantasy Preakness Stakes
May 17, 2011: Check out the Fantasy Preakness Stakes featuring 14 of the past Preakness winners from www.horseracegame.com.
Triple Crown winners
The horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year.
Derby Day finery
Fashion statements fill Churchill Downs as race fans display their hats.