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The 139th running of the Preakness Stakes will take place this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The Preakness is "The Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown", and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is the presumptive favorite.
With all due respect to my native Kentuckian colleague Bill Ferrell who recently wrote about the Kentucky Derby, as a native Baltimorean, I would argue that the Preakness has an equally rich tradition. Notably, the Preakness was first run in 1873, which is two years before the first Derby. The Derby has "My Old Kentucky Home" and a blanket of roses for the winner, and the Preakness has "Maryland, My Maryland" and blanket of black-eyed susans. And like the Derby, the "Preakness Stakes" is a federally registered trademark.
Another well-known Preakness tradition is the infield party. While the eyes of the sports world will be fixed on the races, there will be a crowd of more than 100,000 people inside the oval who will be oblivious to the spectacle around them. The infield at the Preakness is considered the "people's party", and it has a reputation for debauchery. It's Baltimore's version of Mardi Gras.
I witnessed the infamy of the Preakness infield during my high school days in the early 90's. It was an eye-opening experience. I couldn't imagine the scene getting any more wild, but apparently that is exactly what happened. By the late 90's, it was commonplace for infielders to participate in the "Running of the Urinals," which involved running down a row of portable toilets while spectators threw full beer cans at them. In 1999, a drunk infielder even staggered his way onto the track during the running of an undercard race. He threw a few punches at the horses before getting arrested.
Eventually, the Maryland Jockey Club had enough, and the BYOB policy for infielders was revoked in 2009. Race organizers also introduced the InfieldFest music festival to entertain the unruly crowd.
The change to the alcohol policy devastated attendance, which dipped to 77,850, a drop of more than 34,000. Race organizers quickly realized that they had gone too far. In an effort to win back infielders, the Maryland Jockey Club adjusted the alcohol policy and introduced the mascot "Kegasus" to promote the InfieldFest:
Critics charged that Kegasus glorified binge drinking, but the campaign had its intended effect. InfieldFest received national attention, and ticket sales surged in 2011 and 2012. The mascot was retired in 2013. In announcing the retirement, the Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said, "I think we're at a different stage with the InfieldFest". He added, "I think the brand is much stronger."
Lorde, the Grammy Award-winning alternative pop star, will headline the 2014 Preakness InfieldFest. The hip-hop legend Nas was also recently added to the lineup. Saturday's main event, however, will still be the Preakness. The post time is 6:15 pm ET.
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