Wire to “The Wire” – Partying at Pimlico for the Freaky Preakness
Baltimore, Maryland. Nicknamed “Charm City,” most people associate Baltimore with Cal Ripken, the Ravens, and “The Wire.” Birthplace of Spiro Agnew, Anna Faris, Upton Sinclair and Frank Zappa. A city renowned for its diversity, its proximity to ‘The Beltway,’ and of course, Pimlico, and the Preakness.
Specifically, ‘Pimlico’ is Pimlico Race Course, home of this weekend’s 140th Preakness Stakes, a fabled, historic horse race that typically trails only one other American horse race (the Kentucky Derby) in terms of attendance, purse size, extravagance, and all of the glamorous names it attracts. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Middle Sister’, the Preakness traditionally occurs two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont Stakes, and is the shortest of the Triple Crown races. After a big day at Churchill Downs in early May, the Kentucky Derby winner travels to Baltimore to charge the brief, lung-busting 1-3/16 mile course and try to galvanize its credentials as a Triple Crown Winner. This year, American Pharoah will march into Maryland to stake his claim to the honor.
All of the wonderful racing tradition and Preakness Day Ceremony aside, The Stakes is also noted for the class, comportment, and genteel nature of its near 120,000 attendants….
But not really.
Like so many iconic sporting events, the Preakness Stakes has its gleaming, gorgeous, cash-centric marketable side, all glitz and shine, the magical allure of horse racing, pastime of the ultra-wealthy. Sheikhs and tycoons and captains of industry and entertainment hobnob in the owners boxes and in the Clubhouse and the Grandstand, sipping Black-Eyed Susans and keeping tabs on their bet ducats. But this seemingly urbane universe of cocktails and socialite racegoers has a rowdy, indecent underbelly. Actually, it’s more of a rowdy, indecent center around which this facade of civility spins. As you make your way inwards, towards the center of the track from the outer layers of the Preakness party it is much like moving towards the center of the universe. Things get vastly hotter, nastier, more dense, and a little bit violent.
Welcome to InfieldFest. Welcome to the Real Preakness.
What else would you expect from an event whose half-man, half-equine mascot resembled the love-child of Kenny Powers and Seabiscuit? That’s right, the official mascot of InfieldFest WAS a beer-swilling, mythical creature named Kegasus who trotted about the infield at Pimlico administering beerbong flushes and horsey leers. While its sister race the Kentucky Derby has always had a tightly-regulated infield alcohol policy, the Preakness was BYOB until 2009. That’s right, bringing liquor into the race was not only allowed, it was encouraged. That’s really the only way to explain why a crowd of twenty-something fraternity animals would throw completely FULL beers at the track stars competing in the port-a-potty races, commonly known as the ‘Run for the Urinals.’
Prior to 2009, the antics in the Preakness Infield were, at best, hearty debauched amusement. At its worst, the Pimlico infield was occasionally violent and could be bloody. The party zone was filled with hazards and flying foreign objects of every size and shape careening around. Here’s one difference between the Derby and the Preakness: While you were likely to catch the heir to a liquor baroncy vomiting in the Derby infield, at the pre-2009 Preakness, you were more likely to find a congressman’s daughter bleeding profusely from the mouth after catching an errant Miller Lite missile. It was, literally, no picnic. Bodies strewn everywhere, in myriad states of disrepair, dishevelment, and undress.
While it seems odd to allow a policy of BYOB to last as long as it did, it’s even stranger to discontinue the policy-especially since the natives were very, very, very used to the practice of bringing their own booze to the race. The “No Outside Alcohol” policy was introduced in 2009, and race attendance promptly dropped by 25%, so the next year, the Mug Club was introduced, allowing the owners of purchased ‘Mug Club’ tickets to have access to, quite literally, unlimited beers. Kegasus arrived in 2011, and immediately began plying spectators with liquor and non-specific ‘medication.’
The colorful behavior returned.
Today at the Preakness, Kegasus is no longer to be found, as race officials decided to opt for a ‘new direction’ with their marketing strategy. Amazing; Pimlico did not want a beer-guzzling, roofie-dopping, half-man/half-horse to be the face of a Triple Crown race? Shame. On the other hand, the profitable and popular Mug Club is now a permanent institution at the track. The hordes of passed-out, beer-drunk lawn-chair jockeys around InfieldFest are a testament to that.
Lest you think that the only attractions in the Pimilico infield during the Preakness are the Mug Club, the ‘Run for the Urinals’ and the ghost of Kegasus, fear not. InfieldFest provides a number of musical attractions to keep spectators and their endless beers entertained while they wait for the Preakness to run. InfieldFest may not be the best place to see the Preakness Stakes: Frankly, it’s almost impossible to see a horse in there.
But I CAN guarantee that you won’t be able to watch the “Run for the Urinals” from the Clubhouse. And you’ll never catch a glimpse of the Ghost of Kegasus in the Grandstand.
At Pimlico, it’s all about InfieldFest. The Mug Club is waiting.