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A Peek Inside Pimlico: Not Quite the 'Animal Kingdom'

Patch reports from the Infield at the Preakness Stakes.

While the dominant color at the Preakness any year is yellow, the prevailing mood in the infield at the middle jewel of the Triple Crown this year was mellow.

For years, Preakness patrons had been allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages into the Pimlico Race Course and the infield in particular was often a raucous bacchanal. A few years ago, Preakness officials eliminated the BYOB policy and instead, this year, for one price (about $75) race-goers paid for admission to the track plus limitless mugs of beer. 

There's still plenty of drinking, but the policy change has toned down the unpleasant edginess.

Bob Lowe, of Saratoga, NY, made his sixth trip to the Preakness on Saturday and for him, the difference in the infield was unmistakable.

"This is definitely a lot more mild than it was back in the day," said Lowe, who was one of three buddies who made the trip and wore matching bright pink T-shirts that said "Fillies and Colts."

"The difference is tenfold," he said. "This used to be incredibly wild but it's still a lot of fun."

After changing its policy on alcohol a few years ago, the Preakness turned the infield into an all-day festival. On Saturday, there were two stages with bands, professional beach volleyball, carnival games such as bean bag tosses, and an extraordinary array of food, from jambalaya to Italian sausage to crab pretzels. Entertainment literally came from every direction—Air Force skydivers and a jet flyover added to the festivities.

Joining Lowe and his friends was a group of women who decided the three New Yorkers would be fun to hang out with, mainly because of the matching pink T-shirts—and a hobby horse friend named Closing Time.

One of the women, Sara Bartlett, who hails from Bel Air but now lives in Lewisburg, PA, was making her first trip to the Preakness.

"It's a fantastic day and a great place to meet people," Bartlett said. "The Preakness is a real bonding moment."

A fashion trend that was evident all over Pimlico Saturday was the influence of the Royal Wedding on women's choice of head wear.

Broad-brim hats that are traditional at the Preakness were often replaced by Fascinators, those fanciful millinery creations of feathers and fluff worn by notable attendees at the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Three friends—Melanie Cooke, Malaysia Speaks and Erica Bealefeld—showed up together wearing Fascinators.

Speaks got the ball rolling when she said she couldn't find a more traditional hat she liked.

"We all watched the wedding," Cooke said, "and [Fascinators] are all over the mall, so I guess it's the new trend."

Across an invisible boundary line in the middle of the Pimlico race course, a more genteel partying was going on in the Preakness Village, which is broadly a collection of corporate tents where it's seersucker suits rather than T-shirts, and folks nibble on crab cakes and sip champagne rather than munch on cheesesteaks and suck on coconut milk from the shell.

Still, Devon Reston, in traditional black-eyed Susan hat and snug cocktail dress, was headed from the Village to the party-hardy infield, gingerly making her way on high heels, flute glass in hand.

"It's nice in the Village because you can find a seat without it being on a blanket on the ground, but I want to see the bands over there, maybe even dance a little," Reston said.

For those at the mass party that's the Preakness infield and those in the considerably more sophisticated environs of the Preakness Village, the day was punctuated by a horse race every 20 minutes or so—and some folks even interrupted their festivities momentarily to watch.

Meath Slivka was at his first-ever Preakness as one of the "Fillies and Colts" group and soaked up the atmosphere.

"It's my maiden voyage and it's a little bit crazy," Slivka said. "For a while, I didn't even know there was a race going on."

CASSANDRA May 21, 2011 at 11:50 PM
GIGGLY-GIGGLY-GIGGLY-GOO!! L O L!
Hollee Sifford May 22, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Well Animal Kingdom may not of won but he still ran an AWESOME RACE...Way to go!!!!!!
Jimitits May 22, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Was a good (fair) race! Is there really such a thing? But was a good make up for the KD, in ur face wall St. Antics!

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