Pimlico infield safe and sound for Preakness

In front of one stage, a mother propped her young child on her

shoulders while watching the country music group Florida Georgia

Line.

On the other side of the expansive infield at Pimlico Race

Course, 42-year-old Sharon Zahn and her 18-year-old daughter were

waiting for rapper Macklemore to begin. Pitbull was also set to

entertain the massive crowd Saturday.

This is not your father’s Preakness infield. It’s not even your

big brother’s.

The days of kegs and flying beer cans and running atop rows of

urinals are gone. The track even banished Kegasus, the

beer-guzzling centaur, after an embarrassing two-year run as the

Preakness mascot.

There was still plenty of alcohol available, and far more than a

handful of people were drunk by noon. For the most part, however, a

large, diverse crowd enjoyed good music in a safe environment.

”I think the brand has changed dramatically,” Tom Chuckas,

president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said four hours before

Preakness post time. ”It’s a party, the people’s party, a fun

time. But it’s a lot safer, a lot more secure. I’m real happy.

They’re crowded in the infield, they’re coming in and the wagering

is up.”

Security was up, too. In the wake of the Boston Marathon

bombings, no backpacks were allowed and all fans were scanned by

metal detectors before entering the track. Chuckas estimated police

and security staffing was up 50 percent from last year.

”In a perfect situation, you would just show your ticket and

come in. But that’s not the world we live in today,” Chuckas

said.

Some fans came for the horses. Others came for the bands. A few

mixed the two.

”We’re here for the music and to bet the races,” said

Kassandra Maxim, 26, who flew down from upstate New York. ”I hear

you used to be able to bring coolers and kegs. I think this has to

be better than that. It’s a little more tame.”

Instead of bringing their own beer, fans got an unlimited supply

of brew for $70, which included the price of admission. Heather

Gonzales, 25, ripped through five refillable mugs before noon. Her

friend, Emily Potter, was visiting from Texas on her first foray to

the East Coast. Potter lost her first bet of the day, but that

didn’t deter from forking over $7 for a crab pretzel – a soft

pretzel covered with crab and cheese.

”It’s delicious,” Potter exclaimed.

Zahn, meanwhile, was jammed within a cluster of people around 50

yards from the stage where Macklemore was playing.

”I came just to see him,” Zahn said. ”My daughter likes him

too, so we decided to make a day of it.”

Zahn had heard all sorts of stories about the chaos in the

infield. She was pleasantly surprised at the scene around her.

”I like it. It’s nice,” she said. ”It’s crowded, but you’re

able to walk around. I don’t think I’ve seen too many drunk people,

either.”

The infield was so safe some people came over from the clubhouse

section to watch people and bands. Jennifer Baird was wearing a

bonnet adorned with a black-eyed Susan, a sharp black dress and

fancy black shoes. Her friend, Chrissy Burgy, wore a hat, green

dress and multicolored sandals.

”We came over for the concerts,” Baird said.

”Are we betting? Yes. Are we winning? We hope,” Burgy

said.

Although a late afternoon shower drenched the crowd, Chuckas

hoped it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for betting on the

horses.

”Truthfully, we’ve done a pretty bad job over the past 20 years

promoting horse racing,” he said. ”There’s not really a younger

demographic. So what do we do? We use the music and other

entertainment to bring them into the facility.

”From the Jockey Club perspective, for them to come just one

day, although it’s great, really isn’t serving our purpose for the

long term. So I get 2 percent, 3 percent, 5 percent coming back

from the infield on a semi-regular basis, that’s the added

benefit.”

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