Preakness 2012 attendance could be among highest ever

Preakness patrons make their way through the tunnel leading to the infield in the early afternoon.
Preakness patrons make their way through the tunnel leading to the infield in the early afternoon. (Robert K. Hamilton, The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Police say up to 50,000 people have shown up at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. The department expects about 112,000 people to come to the event by the time this evening's big race has been run.

If the race hits that mark, it would be one of the biggest crowds on record -- last year's attendance was reported at about 107,398, the sixth-largest of all time. The race has been recovering from a decline in attendance when race organizers decided in 2009 to eliminate the B.Y.O.B. drinking policy at the rowdy infield party.

After a few years of experimentation, the infield policy appeared to have struck an effective balance over the past two years with an all-you-can drink draft beer offering. Still, some patrons have complained today about long lines.

Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which runs the event, said attendance less than 115,000 would "be a disappointment."

"From what I see, the crowd is fantastic," he said around 3:15 p.m. He said he had not been provided recent attendance numbers and has not been notified of any significant problems at the track.

The most memorable part of Preakness 2012 for Chuckas so far?

"The people, it's the people's party," Chuckas said. "The staff has provided them with their needs and their wants."

Anthony Guglielmi, police spokesman, said there has been zero arrests and two people tossed out for disorderly conduct.

Drinking hasn't been a wholesale problem, he said.

"It's a much classer event," Guglielmi said. "People are having a great time."

Guglielmi said outgoing Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has toured the infield, visited the roof to check out the crowd and has been meeting with officers individually to thank them for the city's 33-year low in crime in 2011 and to say goodbye.

There are several hundred officers on-hand, in addition to private security. The police department has uniformed officers at the event as well as plain clothes officers, intelligence units and tactical teams.

Bealefeld oversaw the race for the last five years as commissioner, but has worked the event for much longer.


"As a rookie cop I was out here in the heyday when it was real crazy," Bealefeld said. "It's like things in the city, like things in the police department, this event has changed and evolved over the years."

Bealefeld spent much of the day meeting with officers individually to thank them for their service and commend them on their work in 2011, which brought crime to a more than 30-year low.


He also oversaw the police department as some of the most dramatic changes were made in recent history to Preakness when event organizers changed the alcohol policy to cut down on the mayhem.

"Now, it's built back to an event the city can be proud of hosting," Bealefeld said. "Everyone is happy. People are well behaved and having a great time."

Bealefeld took a break from his police work with his family to watch Maroon 5 take the stage. He was waiting to see what might happen. Last year, he said the band Train pulled his son's girlfriend on the stage to dance.

Working his last Preakness is "bittersweet for me," Bealefeld said, but he is looking forward to enjoying the event in plain clothes next year.

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