A guide to attending the 139th Preakness

The 139th running of the Preakness Stakes will take place Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome will attempt to win the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown when the race begins at 6:18 p.m. You, as a spectator, will attempt to navigate a crowd of more than 100,000 as you mill about the Pimlico grounds. It's hard to say which feat is more challenging, but since we're not jockeys, let's focus on the race-day experience.


(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

I want to go to the Preakness! How do I get tickets? 
This is a question that will lead us down two paths. All tickets are available through TicketFly.

Do you want to watch the horse race like a civilized person? Tickets for seats in the Grandstand are available for $140. The Grandstand is indoors. It's high along the finish line, which offers a great view of the home stretch but has the ambiance of an intercity bus terminal with betting windows and booze. If you don't mind being on your feet for the day, however, you can get into the Grandstand's general admission area for just $25. If you'd prefer to sit outside and closer to the track, Concourse Apron Box tickets are $135. Everything else is sold out, though expect to find plenty of secondary-market action outside the course on race day.

Do you want to make questionable decisions all day while seeing few, if any, horses? Then the Infield is for you. The Infield is one big, sweaty frat party on gnarled turf. If you dislike using Port-O-Potties or funneling beers before noon, this is probably not the best area for you. Tickets are available for $70; for an extra $20, you can get a Mug Club ticket that comes with all-you-can-drink beer. If this all sounds just a little too intense, the Mug & Vine Lounge is a cordoned-off escape pod of private restrooms, cash bar, picnic areas and other basic necessities within the InfieldFest. It'll cost you $140. (Infield ticket-holders can pay a $25 general admission fee for access to the Grandstand.) Infield tickets are the only tickets you'll be able to buy at the track on race day.

How do I get to Preakness? 
Another loaded question, excuse the pun.

Are you planning to drink all day? You'll need to rely on public transportation. Ride the MARC train from Union Station to Baltimore's Penn Station. The fare is $7. From there, the Penn/Camden Light Rail shuttle will take you to the University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal subway station. Ride north ($3.50) to the Cold Spring Lane station and board the shuttle bus to Pimlico. Shuttles to the track run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Repeat this process on the way home. The last train to D.C. leaves Baltimore at 9:15 p.m.

Will you stay sober, or have a designated driver? Take public transportation, as above, or purchase an official parking pass for $50-$75, also through Ticketfly. Preakness Way Lot #4 is a designated cash lot on race day. It's $50 and will likely be full by noon. Alternatively, residents of the neighborhoods near Pimlico will try to persuade you to park on their lawns or driveways for a fee.

Okay, I'm there. What do I do to pass the time until the Preakness starts? 
The Preakness Stakes is the biggest race of the day, but it's just one of 13 that will be run on Saturday. You can bet on (or simply watch) the races beginning at 10:45 a.m. Pimlico's gates open at 8 a.m.

About that: What's betting like? Kind of intimidating at first, but really easy (too easy) once you get the hang of it. If you want to seem knowledgeable, buy a copy of the racing form, study it, and then to lurk in the lines for the betting windows or machines and listen to how the track veterans place their bets. Then just bet on the horses with the funniest names. Works every time. (Or consult this Wagering 101 guide from Pimlico.)

What's the food like at the Preakness? Unless you're in one of the catered hospitality areas, it's like a minor league baseball game mixed with a county fair: pizza, burgers, crab cakes, fried stuff. None of that sound appetizing? You can bring your own food into the Preakness provided it's in clear plastic bags or containers. No coolers, backpacks or thermoses are allowed.

What should I drink? The Black-Eyed Susan is the official drink of the Preakness. Be on the lookout for vendors walking around with trays of commemorative Preakness glasses; each one carries the name of all past Preakness winners. What's in a Black-Eyed Susan? The original recipe is a mix of rum, vodka, triple sec and fruit juice that is evocative of something you'd drink in a College Park basement. The more refined version at Pimlico is a sweet, sweet mix of vodka, St. Germain and pineapple, lime and orange juices. Have too many and your head will hurt more than your wallet the next morning. Unlike outside food, outside alcoholic beverages are no longer permitted at Pimlico.


(Jonathan newton/The Washington Post)

I'm going to InfieldFest. Don't judge me. What's this I hear about music?
It's worth reiterating: If you're in the infield, you'll need to make an effort to see the horses whizz past you. You'll have a better view of the live music, which includes headline performances by Nas (1:30-2:45 p.m.) and Lorde (4-5:15 p.m.), plus EDM sets by Glenn Morrison and Frank Walker and alt-rock band Switchfoot. There are two stages, and the first sounds of the day begin at 8:15 a.m.

What should I wear to the Infield? Something that you wouldn't mind never wearing again, with closed-toed shoes unless you want to be stepped on repeatedly. Most Infield attendees will simply opt to wear the least amount of fabric allowable. Or this:


(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

What should I wear if I'm going to be mingling with other adults? You don't have to dress up for the Concourse and Grandstand areas, but you won't be out of place if you choose to wear some flair. Men in bowties and seersucker are not uncommon; for women, it's sundresses and fancy hats. But this is Baltimore, too, so expect lots of O's gear and casual wear, too. It's a come-as-you-are affair.

Anything else? You should learn the words to "Maryland, My Maryland," which is sung before the start of the Preakness.

Alex Baldinger is editor of the Going Out Guide blog, which covers food, drink, arts, music, events and other curiosities in the D.C. area. He is forever in search of a great sandwich.
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