Fans will return to the Preakness Stakes on May 15 but on a heavily limited basis under plans announced Tuesday by the Maryland Jockey Club.
Tickets will go on sale April 5 for the 146th Preakness, with plans to run the state’s signature thoroughbred race before a crowd of no more than 10,000 at Pimlico Race Course, the Jockey Club said.
Because of social-distancing protocols, seating arrangements will change considerably. Those who carried over their tickets from last year’s Preakness will “have the opportunity to relocate to the nearest equivalent seating area for this year’s event beginning on March 24,” the Jockey Club said.
“We are thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to Pimlico Race Course for Preakness 146,” said Belinda Stronach, chairman and CEO of 1/ST, the Jockey Club’s parent company. “While fan attendance will be limited due to COVID-19 protocols, the excitement of the Preakness is not limited. The 1/ST team has worked tirelessly and in cooperation with Baltimore City and the State of Maryland to thoughtfully and safely prepare for an exciting and memorable day of world-class Thoroughbred horse racing and entertainment.”
Preakness Day will not feature its traditional InfieldFest, but organizers plan to offer a streamed entertainment feed to complement NBC’s broadcast of the race.
Patrons will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing and submit to temperature checks before entry, with expedited admission for fully vaccinated customers.
The Jockey Club promised “an entirely re-imagined entertainment and curated hospitality experience” featuring indoor dining, trackside viewing suites and corporate village suites featuring “open air cabanas” and lounge seating.
The news came two weeks after the Jockey Club said the Preakness would return to its customary date on the third Saturday in May after it was run on Oct. 3 last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Larry Hogan cleared the way for a more familiar Preakness when he loosened attendance restrictions on the state’s racetracks and stadiums. The governor has pointed to a May Preakness as one sign of Maryland’s slow return to normalcy and has said he plans to present the Woodlawn Vase to the winner on May 15.
“I want to thank 1/ST and The Maryland Jockey Club for working to ensure that all the proper safety and public health protocols will be in place for Preakness 146,” Hogan said in a statement Tuesday.
Asked about fans returning at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Hogan, said: “I think it’s going to be wonderful having people safely back enjoying the race.”
Mayor Brandon Scott also praised the Jockey Club’s efforts to make the event safe.
“The Preakness is a Baltimore staple and the center of American horse racing since 1870. I am excited to welcome fans back to Pimlico Race Course in Park Heights,” he said in a statement. “Sustaining the health and safety of Baltimore residents is my top priority, and I am confident the staff at 1/ST and the Maryland Jockey Club will protect the health of fans by following the safety guidelines set forth by the City of Baltimore and State of Maryland.”
The Preakness will come about five weeks after the Orioles host 11,000 fans for their home opener at Camden Yards and two weeks after the Kentucky Derby runs with a crowd at 40%-50% capacity in reserved seating areas.
The Preakness drew a crowd of 131,256 to Pimlico in 2019 and is generally the most attended sporting event in Maryland. With no patrons on hand to watch the filly Swiss Skydiver outduel Derby champion Authentic last fall, betting handle for the Preakness Day card fell 48.7% to $51.2 million.
The smaller crowd will also reduce the economic impact of the race, estimated at $30 to $40 million in past years and projected to exceed $50 million once Pimlico is redeveloped to include more premium seating, according to a study released in 2019 by the University of Baltimore.