Does Baltimore Really Care About The Preakness …..

May 14, 2009 |

I have spent my entire life in the Baltimore area. To date, that’s nearly 42 years and counting …..

I would consider myself a devoted Baltimore sports fan. However, I have never attended a Preakness event. This would include weeklong celebratory occasions, and the race, itself. I can’t really pinpoint a reason – I just haven’t developed an interest.

Although, I have no firsthand knowledge of what actually happens at Pimlico on a “Preakness Saturday,” I’ve seen plenty of documented footage. One thing that strikes me as odd is it appears many people who attend the Preakness probably couldn’t care less if a horse walks onto the track.

From all my sources, I’m led to believe the infield is a massive party, which includes nudity, dancing, fights, vomiting, more nudity, more dancing ….. you get the picture. Trust me, this blog isn’t a written criticism of the liberal fun enjoyed by infield fans. I’m the last guy who should voice concern over acting silly.

However, most people attending a sports event actually care about the event, right? For example, I can’t think of a more festive “Baltimore Style” sports crowd than what can be found outside M&T Bank Stadium, just hours before the Ravens take the field. But, every tailgater wearing purple cares if the Ravens win.

In fact, these same people can be found in front of a television when the Ravens are on the road. And, they care about off-season activities, like the draft, mini-camps and the kickoff of training camp. Ravens fans support the team and game on a year-round basis.

Can the same thing be said about Baltimoreans attending the Preakness? How many Preakness attendees will find their way to Pimlico on the following Saturday? Were they there last Saturday? In fact, how many people will stagger out of Pimlico and not step foot into another horse racing facility, prior to the 2010 Preakness?

I’m sorry, but I don’t see how horse racing can survive with such weak support.

I can recall several years ago, when the Preakness was truly a weeklong celebration. I’m talking hot-air balloon races, concerts, crab derbies, celebrity appearances and much, much more. While some of these attractions still exist, the “pomp and circumstance” has certainly been tapered back.

To hear Nestor talk about the Kentucky Derby, I’m reminded of a town hosting a NASCAR race. According to Nasty, Louisville really rolls at the red carpet and it’s a city-wide “lovefest” for the horse racing community. Hmmm ….. I don’t see such pageantry here …..

If you drive directly from the arrival terminal at BWI to Baltimore’s inner harbor, how many Preakness-related advertisements or symbols will you see? Do you think a single Black-Eyed Susan memento can be found?
Yet, a motorist can’t drive a country mile without passing something purple or even one of the numerous, stupid Orioles billboards. Asinine, yes ….. but, an advertisement, nonetheless. This is Ravenstown ….. This is Birdland ….. This ain’t a horse racing hotbed.

In two weeks, a motorsist won’t be able to drive within 20 miles of Dover, Delaware, without seeing a “Welcome Race Fans” banner, NASCAR showcar or caravan of gearheads, on a shopping center parking lot. NASCAR is indeed coming to town and everything else STOPS.

While I’m not directly comparing the populations and infrastructures of Baltimore and Dover, I am suggesting one city cares more about its hosted event. For many Delaware residents, NASCAR and its fans are a major pain the ass. However, this traveling circus of horsepower pays a lot of bills.

Honestly, I think many Baltimore sports fans stand in my shoes. We don’t identify with horse racing. And, the horse racing industry has never done a thing to solicit or inspire my interest. Nope, not a single gesture …..

Yet, during the summer of 1994, I was desperately looking for something to fill the void as Major League Baseball was on hiatus. NASCAR was selling discounted tickets for the Dover race weekend and I gave it a shot. The crowd and competitors were the friendliest bunch I’d ever encountered.

As a police officer, I couldn’t fathom how 100,000 people could come together, while drinking ….. yet, I didn’t witness a single fight. Fans didn’t chuck full beer cans at each other and everyone paid attention to the action on the track – not the sideshows off of it.

I’ve been hooked on NASCAR ever since that first trip. In the meantime, I continue to live in Baltimore, and I somehow continue to be ignored by the horse racing industry. I guess they don’t want my money ….. or interest.

Funny, rewind the calendar 25 years. In 1984, if someone would’ve told me that NASCAR would practically bury horse racing, by 2009, I would’ve laughed at them. It’s not such a laughing matter, now.

In fact, there’s very little reason to laugh or smile if you have a stake in the Preakness or horse racing, at all …..