Credit Where Credit’s Due: Preakness Was Tremendous Again

May 16, 2010 | Glenn Clark

I was awfully harsh on the Maryland Jockey Club last year.

I described the 2009 Preakness “Infieldfest” event as a “miserable failure“, which I thought it was.

As far as the 2010 Preakness infield is concerned, the MJC won’t get harsh treatment from me.

Not perfect (and I’ll touch on that), but the 2010 Preakness Infield was much closer to the type of event that Baltimore can be proud to consider a major part of the city’s biggest (and most significant) annual party.

The juice was back. I arrived at 10:30am, and the infield was already electric. Party-goers already filled the infield, taking in their beers and proudly keeping their plastic mugs around their neck. While I did hear complaints about beer selection (I learned only Budweiser products-namely Bud Light and Bud Select-were available) and the fact that there were apparently only 4 re-filling stations available; it appeared as though “The Mug Club” was a MAJOR success Saturday.

While ZZ Top, Buckcherry and Charm City Devils failed to inspire fans to come to the infield last year-and failed to entertain many of those who did; the entertainment at this year’s Preakness was the perfect soundtrack to the party. Preakness organizers ought to think about discussing a deal with O.A.R. that allows them to be the “house band” for the event. O.A.R. hails from Maryland, is a legitimate national headlining act (they’ll be back for what will certainly be a packed show at Merriweather Post Pavilion later this summer), and is especially popular with the college-aged group Preakness organizers want to see fill the infield.

O.A.R. was absolutely a PERFECT headliner. They were fun (which probably wouldn’t have surprised you had you heard Jerry DePizzo with Rex Snider and Ray Bachman Friday afternoon on AM1570 WNST-if you missed it, check it out in the Audio Vault), they were energetic; and the atmosphere surrounding their performance was similar to the scenes at more major past concert events in Charm City like HFStival and VirginFest. Zac Brown Band provided an eclectic mix by throwing in a set that was half Jimmy Buffett party/half traditional country. Their set was also eagerly anticipated by the crowd in attendance…

Photo Courtesy of MJC

I’ll be forced to admit that I didn’t see any of Collective Soul or Jason Michael Carroll; but I know the crowd was already energetic before 11am thanks in large part to party band Mr. Greengenes.

There was a real buzz.

There was a real level of excitement.

It felt again like the type of event that would lead to thousands of Facebook pictures, thousands of Twitter updates and thousands of stories throughout the upcoming weeks.

There was still a level of raunchiness; but much less dangerous and embarrassing than years past.

Instead, there was a real party. A real party that Baltimore could be proud of. A real party that sets the Preakness apart from the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes amongst Triple Crown events.

With no offense to those who spend their Preakness day inside the Corporate Village or in the more expensive seats in the grandstand; but Baltimore is a blue collar town and Preakness is a blue collar event. Cue Jerry Izenberg from the Newark Star-Ledger…

“Greater Baltimore is too big and too honest, and its people work too hard and wear out too many blue collars for it to be otherwise. It understands exactly what this race is. It is a break in the calendar when the Orioles will not be the lead story. It is an event that the town respects but does not worship.”

Baltimore will never be Louisville, nor should it be. But the infield at Old Hilltop sets our event apart from the others. The curiosity surrounding the infield drives fans in from up and down the east coast.

And after Saturday, the infield is back.

It might never be the event that it once was for some of us. It might never be a day about hauling in as much beer as you could carry and sitting down with everyone on your block to drink until you can’t see straight.

But the infield-despite the silly “Get Your Preak On” campaign-is electric again.

Now-things can still get better. More places to sit (the pro volleyball players in town must have thought they were bigger stars than Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky considering how many patrons hit the pit just because patrons could hit the bleachers), a bigger beer selection, and a bit more involvement with the actual racing could help make things even better.

I was skeptical after 2009.

I’m excited after 2010.

I’m giving credit where it’s due. It’s been a big year for the Maryland Jockey Club. The re-organization of MI Developments kept control of Pimlico and Laurel in their hands after the Magna bankruptcy. The Preakness Covenant agreement announced by MID and Martin O’Malley meant that MJC’s shining jewel (Preakness) would stay in Maryland.

Now, they’ve brought back 20,000 of the nearly 40,000 fans they lost after the beer ban.

As word spreads of the success of Preakness 2010, they’ll have a real chance to get the other 20,000 back as well.

Hopefully their hot streak can next shift to the track itself-as a major party deserves a more fitting venue.