Preakness ’09: They’re getting it right at Pimlico

May 15, 2009 | Drew Forrester

What’s the old saying, “better late than never?”

It certainly applies to the folks at the Maryland Jockey Club, The Leffler Agency and everyone involved with the 2009 running of The Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Old Hilltop.

For the first time in a long time, I can sense a real, tangible “air” of positivity about the race.

Every media outlet in town is talking about the Preakness, which is a testament to both the MJC and The Leffler Agency, who developed a promotions campaign this year designed to include everyone in town who wanted to be included.  Yes, that certainly DOES involve advertising dollars, as they’ve “spread the wealth” in ’09 and at least a dozen radio stations and all four TV stations in the market are benefitting from it.  No one’s getting rich, mind  you, but no longer is the marketing secret to give WBAL Radio/TV $75,000 and the rest of the folks in town $1,500 plus some free tickets to give-away on the air. 

In fact, this year, NO ONE is giving away free tickets in bulk, which is also a good thing.  Giving away tons of freebies doesn’t do a whole lot for the perceived value of the product — and that’s another good decision made by the folks in charge at MJC.

As a side note, this, again, is an example of the effort the baseball team in town should make to try and garner support and enthusiasm from the media.  If the stuffed suits at OPACY would look at the MJC’s policy this year, they’d see you get more bees with MORE honey.  Get everyone in town behind your event — a horse race, a baseball game, etc. — and more people might feel compelled to attend and support your product.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that the O’s are doing it wrong, even if they won’t admit it.  Well, all they have to do is look at how the MJC has brought every media outlet in town together over the last two weeks and there’s proof positive it CAN work, no matter what your track record might be with stations and/or individuals in town.

Make no mistake about it, the local electronic and print media is in full support mode for this year’s Preakness.

And, with a bunch of radio stations and the TV talking heads on board, the next step is to ensure that everyone knows about InfieldFest, the latest concoction to try and drive folks to the race course early and stay late.  By now, you’re aware of the major issues surrounding InfieldFest:  Three bands playing throughout the day, including rock legends ZZ Top — a Beach Volleyball Tournament  — and even Sumo Wrestling for those of you who are into that sort of thing, I suppose.  And, of course, the other big news is the beverage policy for ’09:  You can no longer bring your own.  Beer, soda, water…no, no and no.  They will, of course, be available to you throughout the day and before you start the stupid accusations about “gouging”, please note the pre-announced prices:  Beer (16 oz) is $3.50, Soda is $2.00 and Bottled Water is $1.00.  In today’s world of sports venues charging – with a straight face, evidently – $8.00 for a beer, $5.00 for a soda and $4.00 for a bottled water (now THAT, my friend is gouging), I hardly think the infield beverage prices are out of line.  In fact, they’re a steal.

Yes, the crowd in the infield will be down tomorrow.  The MJC is anticipating that, obviously.

What they hope, though, is that everyone in the infield actually goes home Saturday night without having had their health and safety endangered while at Pimlico for the Preakness.  Unfortunately, in recent years, you were taking your safety into your owns when you showed up on the 3rd Saturday in May.  Too much bedlam, way too many people who can’t handle their drink, and an ever-growing attitude of “f**k it…it’s the Preakness, anything goes…if you don’t want to get hit with a beer can, you should stay home.”


If you want to act like a horse’s ass, no pun intended, and get whacked-out drunk and throw things at people, then you and your pals should get a keg, sit out on your deck, drink to your heart’s delight, and then go throw horseshoes at each other’s face until someone gets hit and falls into a coma.  Problem solved.  You get to be reckless and the people who are actually sane get to watch the race and participate in the festivities in peace at Pimlico.  

The other smart move by MJC and The Leffler Agency this year is involving local personalities on Saturday.  These aren’t “out of towners”, either.  These are local, Baltimore-raised folks — like Nestor, for instance, and Stacy Kiebler, and members of the Blast — who get to hang out in the Infield and help promote the event on Saturday.  Linking up with local celebrities is a wise move and it makes the whole thing connect more closely with BALTIMORE and not just horse racing.  

For the first time in a long time, I’m actually somewhat disappointed I’m not going.  I haven’t been to the Preakness since 2001 and, frankly, throughout most of this decade, I really wasn’t missing it.  I still watched it — even bet on it, of course — but I didn’t have the urge or the drive to clear a path on my schedule to go out there.  

I won’t be there tomorrow, but I think I’m going to regret that when I watch the pre-race pagentry at 4:30.

It’s my feeling that Baltimore has a prideful stake in the race tomorrow.  I’ve heard A LOT of people talking about the Preakness over the last week or so — “are you going?”, “are there still tickets available?” — and it strikes me that – for some reason – a new enthusiasm for the race is starting to emerge. 

There will, of course, always be people on Saturday who don’t know when enough is enough and they’ll likely embarrass themselves to no end with some kind of stupid move after their 14th beer.  

That’s not BALTIMORE, though, that’s human nature.

Meanwhile, Baltimore will be on display throughout the late afternoon and even though the TV cameras might not pick it up, Saturday is going to be the best Preakness we’ve seen in a long, long time.  

I can feel it.