The annual running of the Preakness Stakes means many things to people.
For horse-racing enthusiasts, it's the top 3- year-old thoroughbreds racing for $1 million in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. For gamblers, it's a chance to cash in on a spur-of-the-moment bet. But for infielders at Pimlico Race Course, it's an exercise in debauchery, where tens of thousands of partygoers are poised for just about anything but a horserace.
"People seem comfortable with the fact that they'll probably never see the races," says Mark Rosencrantz, 27, of Westminster, who has attended Preakness for the past three years. "Their minds seem to be set on something else."
That something else? Perhaps it's consuming the copious amounts of alcohol they have in their coolers, attempting to woo a fellow infielder or witnessing a few drunken 20-some- things race across the tops of portable toilets and get pelted by beer cans from the crowd below (though last year's stunt isn't likely to happen again this year, organizers say).
It's just a short list of activities that have taken place in the infield in previous years.
According to Mike Gathagan, vice president of communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, the public infield party was the brainchild of former Pimlico General Manager Chick Lang. Debuting in the early 1970s, the infield celebration has become more than just a yearly event.
"It is a rite of spring in Baltimore," says Gathagan.
For some, the booze-soaked infield celebration might seem a bit odd, considering there's a horserace going on. But for others, such behavior is nothing out of the ordinary.
"It's fairly normal for people to look for an excuse to party," says Jim Trela, head of the sociology department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It's just like with Super Bowls, except the Preakness is an extreme example because there's a long tradition of partying in the infield."
For non-bettors or those unwilling to brave the ruckus of the infield, there are many other ways to take part in Preakness festivities, such as:
Get an inside peek into Pimlico's racetrack and the Preakness Stakes Barn, watch the morning workouts and meet some of the jockeys participating in Saturday's races from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. today and tomorrow at Pimlico Race Course, 5201 Park Heights Ave.
At noon today, watch as local celebrities jockey Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and compete for a prize of $500 to donate to their chosen charity at the 18th Annual Preakness Crab Derby at Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington St. For more information for this free event, call 410-685-6169 or go to lexingtonmarket.com.
Starting at 2 p.m. today and tomorrow, kids and adults can enjoy crafts and entertainment, refreshments and games at the Preakness Balloon Festival at Turf Valley Resort. Weather permitting, balloon rides will be available at 3 p.m. with a hot-air balloon launch at 6 p.m. both days. There will be a final launch at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Turf Valley Resort is at 2700 Turf Valley Road in Ellicott City. Go to ballooningusa.com/preak ness2008.
Power Plant Live will host two free concerts as part of Miller Lite Nites. The groups Alter Bridge, Airborne and Theory of a Dead Man take the stage tonight and local rockers Mr. Greengenes perform tomorrow. Both 7:30 p.m. shows are for people 21 and older.
At tomorrow's "'Twas the Night Before Preakness," catch 2008 Grammy nominee Ryan Shaw perform live along the 800 block of Aliceanna St. in Harbor East. Local act Donegal X-press will open the concert, running from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, go to harboreast.org.
The Junkyard Saints, a Baltimore-based funk, swing, Latin, R&B; and zydeco band, will give a free concert from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Belvedere Square, York Road and Belvedere Avenue. Go to belve deresquare.com for more information.
The Preakness Stakes' post time is at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, 5201 Park Heights Ave. Gates open at 8 a.m. For tickets, call 410-542-9400 or go to tick etmaster.com.
RACE DAY DOS AND DON'TS
Here are a few guidelines to what race-goers may and may not bring into the infield.
Beer, wine and soda in plastic bottles or normal-sized cans
Coolers smaller than 28 inches in length by 15 inches wide by 17 inches tall
Lightweight, plastic lawn chairs
Hibachis or barbecues
Folding or nonfolding metal furniture
Handcarts or wheeled carts