The Preakness Stakes is the flagship event of Maryland’s horse racing season. Some of the top 3-year-olds in the country descend on Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course to contest the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Some of the 100,000-plus people in attendance on May 21, though, may not see a horse the entire day.
The goings-on in the Preakness infield have made for an event unto itself. Should you want to bet on the action from the infield, you can. Tellers are able to accept wagers, and you can also bet on your phone through advance deposit wagering platforms such as TVG.
However, if you’re preparing to venture through the tunnel, under the track, and into the infield, you should prepare for an atmosphere unlike any other in horse racing. Here’s a brief history, along with a few tips from someone who’s been there before.
The history of the Preakness infield
As wild as the infield can be, it used to be a far crazier scene. For many years, infield-goers were allowed to bring their own booze. This sometimes included kegs of beer.
The first serious blow to that policy came in 1999. A drunk fan named Lee Chang Ferrell somehow made his way onto the track during a race on the Preakness undercard. He then attempted to punch Artax, one of the most well-known sprinters in the country.
Miraculously, the horse, rider, and idiot involved in the incident were not hurt during the fracas. Unsurprisingly, Ferrell was banned for life from all Maryland racetracks.
In the 2000s, that policy was revised to limit patrons to cans carried in coolers. This backfired on organizers when a video of an infamous “toilet run” went viral. In it, one runner sprinted on top of porta potties while being pelted by beer cans thrown by the crowd below.
Pimlico dropped its “bring your own beer” policy entirely after this. That year, attendance dropped to 77,850 after topping 100,000 for the previous eight renewals of the Preakness. Further changes were deemed necessary.
An obligatory explanation of Kegasus
Some changes worked better than others. Among the ones those involved look back on with discontent was the introduction of Kegasus, pictured right, as the 2011 Preakness mascot.
We’ve all been to parties with one of these people (though they usually have two legs, not four). Portrayed by a man in a centaur costume and calling himself a “party manimal,” Kegasus wore a nipple ring and proudly showed off a beer gut while urging Preakness-goers to “be legendary” and indulge in the atmosphere.
Go ahead and laugh. This is thoroughly ridiculous.
To the shock of absolutely no one, this was pretty universally panned. Jason Loviglio, a professor at the University of Maryland, went on record as saying the presence of Kegasus invited fans “to pursue sunstroke and alcohol poisoning.”
Attendance did rebound in the early-2010s. However, Kegasus was retired in 2013, just two short years after he burst on the scene.
The evolution of InfieldFest
One move that did stick, though, was the creation of InfieldFest. Starting in 2010, the concert has taken many forms over the years and has become a significant draw on its own.
A diverse group of bands has performed since that first renewal, which featured the Zac Brown Band and Rockville’s O.A.R. as the headliners. Among other artists, Maroon 5, Lorde, Pitbull, and Sam Hunt have taken the InfieldFest stage.
Prior to a two-year stoppage caused by COVID-19, the event transformed into more of an EDM festival. That vibe can be expected again this time around, with Marshmello and The Chainsmokers set to top the InfieldFest lineup.
The Chainsmokers’ performance will be televised live on NBC during the network’s Preakness coverage. Other acts include Frank Walker and Moneybagg Yo, and more acts may be added as InfieldFest draws closer.
In addition to Infieldfest, the Preakness LIVE Culinary, Art and Music Festival debuts on Friday, May 20. If you’re in town early, you can visit the infield for perfomances from Lauryn Hill and Megan Thee Stallion, among others.
Preakness infield tips and tricks
I went to two renewals of the Preakness in 2013 and 2014, and ventured to the infield for brief visits both years. Some of the advice I’ll give may seem obvious, but it bears repeating ahead of this year’s event.
- Drink responsibly. Your liver and wallet will thank you in equal measure.
- If you intend to bet on any races, bet before you go in. Between tents and fences, you won’t see the track to have an idea of which races are coming up. TVs do exist, but the sounds from the infield will drown them out.
- Do not expect rational behavior. When I went into the infield to produce a package for HRTV, the first young woman we interviewed had already indulged. She grabbed the microphone and slurred, “Welcome to the Preakness. Seabiscuit is winning today,” before nearly falling out of the shot.
- The toilet runs are, by and large, not prominent anymore. The porta-potties, however, remain. If nature calls, don’t expect luxury.
- For that reason, as well as the possibility of rain, do not wear expensive shoes.
- If you do wear expensive shoes, don’t hire people to carry you around so your expensive shoes remain clean. When Jack Harlow did that in Kentucky, he looked positively ridiculous.