If you want to talk horses, the wrong place to go is the Pimlico infield on Preakness Day.
On a gorgeous afternoon, the infield is far more reminiscent of the beach at Fort Lauderdale than a race track supposedly populated by bettors. The crowd is young, wears as little as possible and, in the case of a majority, groggy by midafternoon.
"It's as good an excuse to get drunk as I can think of," said Janie Hampton, a student at West Virginia University who joined three female friends to drive down for the weekend. "My roommate, Terri, lives in Baltimore, so we stayed at her house and came out this morning. We're just looking at the guys, talking to the guys and having fun with the guys. Watching is the most fun."
What makes Pimlico so fascinating on Preakness Day are the contrasts--and the similarities. The crowd in the posh jockey club also dressed to get watched. But that meant fancy suits for the men, expensive dresses for the women.
"Why not dress up for an event?" asked Jim Marshall, a lawyer from Columbia, who sat with his date, sipping a Black-Eyed Susan from a souvenir glass and eating roast beef, served by a black-tied waiter. "We know we'll see friends we maybe only see a couple times a year. Why not go all out?"
The day is not a fun one for everybody. For Gov. Harry Hughes' security guards, it is more a headache than anything else. They know the governor will be out in the open in a big crowd. "We'll all be glad when this is over," said one, waiting for Hughes to finish lunch and head for his box.
And, there are the sad stories, of those who lose more than they bet. Preakness Day is a big day for pickpockets. One man reported he had lost his wallet with $200 in it. The Pimlico security office took a report, but, as one officer said, "He'll never see that again."
But, for most, the day is a long party.