Preakness Infield Takes on a New Flavor

Andrew Beyer looks ahead to Saturday's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Jill Rosen
The Baltimore Sun
Thursday, May 14, 2009; 11:31 PM

Tim Haus had time to take a phone call Thursday afternoon -- one sure sign that this won't be a typical Preakness weekend.

The days leading up to the race are typically crazy for Haus and other workers at Wells Discount Liquors on York Road in north Baltimore. On race day, they'd usually open at 7 a.m. just so people headed to Pimlico's infield could load cars with beer, beer and more beer.

That's over. Track officials have prohibited spectators from bringing in any beverages, including malty, hoppy, alcoholic ones ¿ those that fueled the antics that earned the race the nickname "The Freakness" and quenched Baltimore's annual thirst for debauchery.

"Normally for the Preakness I would triple everything I'd order," says Haus, Wells' beer manager, noting that meant $50,000 in beer sales alone. "That's lost. We've lost a lot."

Loss. That comes up a lot when talking to young people about Preakness this year. At area colleges, the BYOB ban is considered near-tragic.

Preakness officials have tried their best to turn those frowns upside down -- and turn a profit -- by changing the infield experience into more of a concert with ZZ Top and Buckcherry, and allowing people to purchase drinks on-site. But infield devotees are inconsolable.

Ticket sales are down 10 to 12 percent. Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas declined to say how much of that decline is for $50 infield tickets.

"I can appreciate a party as much as anyone," Chuckas says. "The idea that this won't be a party anymore is a fallacy. It's just a different kind of party."

If it's not a hedonistic show of immature excess ¿ some falling-down drunk by lunchtime, others throwing full beer cans at strangers, a few running the urinal gauntlet, exposing themselves, urinating in public and fighting ¿ well, to many, it's not Preakness.

An opinion piece in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter headlined "Sober Preakness is Bad Preakness" calls the no-booze policy "the worst news ever." This in the same year the economy bottomed out, planes crashed and wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

College News, an online magazine, lamented, "Anyone familiar with the Preakness infield knows that getting hammered there mid May was one of the big traditions in the Mid-Atlantic region. The fun police have struck again."

"My father attended Preakness from the age of 16-24. It's sad that my kids won't be able to experience the great Baltimore tradition that my father and I were able to," sighed Baltimore native Henry Deford, 22, who has been attending the race since 2004.

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