BALTIMORE (AP) — It didn’t matter if you were there for the music or the horses, or whether you were a 21-year-old or a member of AARP.
There was something for everyone in the infield at Pimlico Race Course before the Preakness on Saturday.
Most of all, there was beer — and plenty of it.
Shortly before noon, 25-year-old Tim Ahern stood in front of the stages, waiting for the next act. He was on his sixth beer of the day, and although that might have seemed excessive to some, Ahern proclaimed, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
There was a race in progress at the time. It mattered not to Ahern.
“I’m planning on not ever seeing one horse,” he declared. “All I want to do is listen to music.”
Across the way, 68-year-old Wayne Nuss and Les Jones, 65, sat in folding chairs next to the fence. They made their bets and watched the horses go by.
It was the first Preakness for both, and each had a beer in hand.
Whether it was an orange mug that entitled the bearer to unlimited refills, or just a plastic cup, just about everyone of drinking age was sipping on a brew.
Although Pimlico barred the practice of bringing in your own beer in 2009, those with a thirst can drink like Ahern if they pay the extra $20 to join the MUG Club.
Katy Donahue and Megan Jones decided instead to buy $2 beers, which were available until noon. After midday approached, they regretted their decision.
“Bad move,” Donahue complained. “We’re out of money.”
It didn’t help that she bought a $6 beer before someone told her about the $2 booth.
Standing nearby, Joe Petrillo and Tyler Ford were holding a stack of $2 cups that enabled them to keep tabs of their consumption. The tote board read seven apiece.
Ford said they opted against buying the endless mugs because the last time he did, the line was too long.
“It looks a little more tame this year,” Jones said.
He was right. There was no waiting before noon, and by 1 p.m., the line took about 10 minutes.
Back when Pimlico officials allowed the infield patrons to haul in their own kegs and tote dozens of cases of beer, the scene was wild and dangerous. Beer cans were sent flying into the crowd, and drunken teenagers often ran across the tops of the portable toilets.
Even after the policy change, the track used a beer-swilling centaur named Kegasus to show that drinking was still a very big part of the infield experience.
The theme now is beer, horses and music. Grammy-winner Lorde, rapper Nas and alternative band Switchfoot were among the performers on two stages Saturday.
“The re-branding has worked really, really well,” said Tom Chuckas, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club. “As someone just said to me, `I don’t see anybody on the Porta-Potties.’ I said, `Well, that’s part of it.’ We also had an unintended benefit — the corporate sponsors all started coming back. So, it’s all come together.”
Hannah Levin, 23, was dancing to a DJ with a beer in hand near a stage. She was there to see Lorde and another solid performer: Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome.
“I know all about the Triple Crown,” she said. “We’re all going to bet on California Chrome.”
Her plan was to buy a $2 ticket and keep it as a souvenir. The race was still six hours away, so there was no guarantee she would remember to get to the betting window.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)