Preakness 2015:

Officials do not expect security concerns at Pimlico Race Course

Councilwoman Rikki Spector says she hopes race day has same 'positive' vibe as it has for years.

When violence erupted last month in other parts of Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death, things were fairly normal in the Park Heights neighborhood where Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, is located.

One store was looted and sustained minor damage, said District 5 councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, whose district includes the neighborhood. But Spector said she expects Saturday's race day to go on with the same "positive" vibe as it has for years.

"It's just a matter of crowd management that they do very well in city, they work very hard in setting up good traffic patterns and make sure they have adequate parking, they do try and take all the negative impact on the community away, " Spector said.

Nearly three weeks after riots damaged several Baltimore neighborhoods, officials for the city and the Maryland Jockey Club said that Saturday's 140th Preakness should not be affected by what transpired last month or by the protest planned Saturday for McKeldin Square. Protest organizers have said they do not plan to interfere with traffic near the track.

Jockey Club general manager Sal Sinatra said this week that no extra security has been hired or precautions made at Pimlico as a result of the riots that took place mostly in East and West Baltimore.

"I don't see any additional concerns," Sinatra said. "We have the same support staff here that we've always had for security. Most of the police officers are outside the facility. None of my bands canceled. All of the horsemen are still coming. I think everything has quieted down [in the city]."

If anything, Sinatra added, "Everyone's going to pay attention a little closer, but I don't see much concern."

Lt. Sarah Connelly of the Baltimore City Police Department would not go into specifics about how many officers would be deployed on Saturday, except to say that they would be both in uniform and undercover "to ensure the safety of visitors to the 140th Preakness Stakes."

Connelly added that "there will be an increased police presence in the surrounding neighborhoods to assist residents and visitors alike" but would not say whether that number was in response to the recent riots or whether it would be typical of past Preakness race days.

Spector said that it might have been different had the Park Heights neighborhood been "Ground Zero" during the protests and subsequent riots, security at the Preakness "would have been on the frontburner."

"Even Ground Zero is back to normal, and a lot of good things are coming out of Ground Zero as a result of the people rallying and recognizing that they don't want to have a rebirth of [the] '68 [riots] there," Spector said. "It's already that Ground Zero has been positively affected."

Sinatra wouldn't disclose how many security personnel would be deployed on race day, given that many will be working undercover. "It's substantial between the armed services, plus police and fire, plus Homeland Security. I don't even know the number here myself," he said.

There was some discussion during the unrest about what could happen with the Preakness had the turmoil continued or restarted after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lifted city-wide curfew, Sinatra said. But no contingency plans were ever finalized, he said.

"We briefly talked about it, but really I don't think we had much of a choice but running the race other than if somebody really did something to the neighborhood," Sinatra said. "I think the actual neighborhood embraces the Preakness."

Though the unruly behavior of fans attending the Preakness has been addressed in recent years, some concern has been raised this year with those who are coming to see the InfieldFest performer Armin van Buren, a Dutch D.J. specializing in Electric Dance Music .

At one of his shows in Australia earlier this year, a 19-year-old man died after overdosing on "Molly," one of the names for the psychoactive drug MDMA. Last August, two men, ages 20 and 17, died of drug overdoses and 19 others were hospitalized at the EDM-leaning Mad Decent Block Party at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Sinatra said that given the nature of the van Buren's show at the Preakness — a small part of the entire event itself — and that it will take place in the middle of the afternoon should curtail the same kind of fan reaction. "It's not going to be one of those shows where the fans are waving their glo-sticks," he said.

Life on Park Heights Avenue seemed normal this week. School kids were coming home and the only palpable buzz in the Gentleman's Quarters hair salon came from manager Ashley Gray's electric trimmer.

Gray doesn't expect anything different this weekend when the typical crush of racing fans descend on the neighborhood.

"I think it should be just the regulars coming in," Gray said as she cut a customer's hair on Tuesday afternoon. "Just normal."

don.markus@baltimoresun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Wesley Case contributed to this article.

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