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Preakness craziness gains Web immortality

The Baltimore Sun

For many who spent yesterday at the Preakness infield, the hangover won't be the worst part of this morning.

It'll be the YouTube video.

For years, the Preakness infield was described as a drunken bacchanalia with a horse race encircling it. But for those who didn't attend, the best sense they could get of the rowdy spree came after the crowd had cleared out, as TV videos and newspaper photos showed tons of garbage being collected.

The mainstream media - produced for a family audience - couldn't adequately describe the debauchery of the infield. And the TV network carrying the race never showed much of the revelry, which didn't mesh well with the gilded story line about the "sport of kings" and the Triple Crown.

Now, though, you don't have to risk injury or alcohol poisoning to experience the infield up close. Along with beer coolers and beach chairs, camcorders and cameras have become standard equipment for many of the thousands of partygoers. Mainstream news outlets also now cover the infield in non-traditional ways through their own Web sites.

One can only imagine people turning on their computers when they wake up today, or maybe in a few days, to watch themselves getting punched in the face. Or pawed. Or doing something under the influence of many beers that seemed like a good idea at the time.

"I think the Preakness infield lends itself to blogging because blogs traditionally don't have the same restrictions in terms of taste," said Michael David Smith, an AOL blogger in Chicago named by Sports Illustrated as mainstream media sports blogger of the year in 2007. "In fact, some blogs like offending people. The spirit of blogging is much more of an 'everything goes' spirit, which also meshes quite nicely with the Preakness infield."

When you watch some of the dozens of Preakness infield videos on sites like YouTube, what comes to mind is something like Woodstock plus Gomorrah plus Caligula's Rome. In general, it's not easy to shock people anymore with all that's out there on the Internet. But the up-close-and-personal videos from the infield are capable of that.

Some Preakness revelers approach the day like junior Scorseses, filming themselves early in the morning as they haul coolers through the tunnel into Pimlico to fully chronicle their boundless transformation from sobriety.

A video from as far back as 2000 showed someone, apparently bored during a rainy Preakness, chucking a full beer can 20 or 30 yards, not minding that it likely would descend on some unwitting person's head, or more likely intending that outcome. The video shows another can launched in return. Within a half-minute, scores of full beer cans were flying across a section of the infield like a meteor storm. How many bruises, cuts and broken noses resulted is left to the imagination.

Another video from a couple of years ago featured a pole-climbing stunt that authorities later cracked down on. Young men shinnied up flagpoles as people on the ground hurled beer cans - even beach chairs - at them.

And last year's "best picture" candidates could have included the harrowing "Running of the Urinals" stunt captured on baltimoresun.com. Or an amateur video on YouTube that showed a young man bloody and dazed as a voice in the background could be heard, "Who hit him? The guy in the Phillies hat?" In the distance, a fuzzy figure waved a red hat over his head - presumably the puncher.

The infield now has plenty of online diarists as well. Many celebrated writers were known drunks, so perhaps the infield's just one big introduction-to-writing class.

"I realize that this is technically a sports-related thing, but what I'm going to write about has nothing to do with the horse race whatsoever," wrote a blogger on wrestlingclique.com last year. "For several years, I've been hearing about how the Preakness was one of the craziest events you can attend. ... An old friend of mine from college lives in Baltimore, which is very close to Pimlico. We paid $80 for the following deal: Unlimited Bloody Marys and Mimosas and a breakfast buffet from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., a bus ride to and from the racetrack, a six-pack of beer and a mini-cooler for the ride to the track, and a ticket to the infield ... Needless to say, I was absolutely smashed by noon. The infield of the racetrack is like nothing I've ever seen before. ... There are girls flashing their boobs every couple of minutes. ... I drank from an 8-person beer bong/funnel. (An "octo-bong," so to speak). ... It was sheer and utter pandemonium. ... I took all the cash I had in my pocket and bet on the favorite to win. He lost by a nose in a photo finish. I didn't really care, I was too drunk and having too much fun. I can't believe I've never gone before. I can't wait until next year."

Smith, who blogs at AOL FanHouse, says many horse-racing bloggers are especially fond of Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 article, "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," which bared the underbelly of the aristocratic horse race and was considered the seed for his "gonzo journalism."

YouTube postings showing groups of men verbally abusing women inside the New York Jets football stadium were another recent instance of online videos revealing a seamier side of a spectator sport, Smith said. The taunting became a larger embarrassment for the team, the league and the lax stadium security after a story about it appeared in The New York Times last fall.

It's too late for the folks who partied very hearty on the infield to consider this - heck, it was probably too late by 11 a.m. yesterday - but Smith's words may echo through their throbbing heads today, and for as long as videos live in cyberspace:

"What you're doing on Saturday afternoon isn't limited to Saturday afternoon anymore."


Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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