Let's concede something right away: The Maryland Jockey Club's decision yesterday to ban infield patrons from bringing outside alcohol inside Pimlico's gates for the Preakness is, at least in part, about safety.
It's a miracle all these years that some knucklehead with biceps full of Budweiser hasn't launched a full can of beer at a horse, causing a potential catastrophe.
But this decision is also about money, and that's why it has the potential to backfire. Why let people bring in their own cheap beer when you can charge them $3.50 per can inside the gates? Especially when you're already charging them between $50 and $60 for an infield pass? Because you won't get 60,000-plus people to show up and pay $60 for an infield pass, that's why. And that money is what generates Pimlico's budget for the entire year.
Maybe the MJC feels it can strike a balance here, with beer revenue making up for lost ticket revenue, but I think it's a bad gamble. I've been in the infield. I've tap-danced around piles of beer cans and barf. Those people aren't coming to watch horse races. They're coming to party. And I'd be surprised to see those 20-something guys and gals shell out close to $100 for the right to pass out in the sun without a shirt on. And if you're looking for trouble, just wait until people decide they have to sneak hard liquor into the event. Nothing starts fights like warm, cheap whiskey.
Though we might be hesitant to say so publicly, part of the reason we love the Preakness is precisely the fact that it's gritty and dangerous. It's horse racing for the everyman, not the man (or prince or king) who owns everything. Why are we trying to change the nature of the event?