Preakness promoters ban outside beverages

Daily Record Business Writer
February 5, 2009 12:50 PM

The biggest change so far to this year’s Preakness doesn’t have anything to do with horses.

In an effort to change the image of the race’s wild and often unruly infield fan area, the Maryland Jockey Club announced Thursday that all outside beverages, including soda and water, will be banned from this year’s race.

Instead, the club is hoping new attractions, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers ZZ Top, will keep the area youthful and fun — and civilized.

The infield, which drew more than half of last year’s Preakness crowd of 112,222, will be the first stop of the Toyota Pro Beach East Volleyball Tour’s season, with a daylong women’s tournament ending before the Preakness Stakes.

And with the addition of music acts ZZ Top, Grammy-nominated Buckcherry and a third local band to be announced, Preakness promoters hope to still attract a young audience while maintaining more control over the infield.

“Change is inevitable,” said Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course. “For the past couple of years we’ve been looking at this ... the goal here is to make Preakness the best experience for everyone.”

Chuckas noted that for the first time in years, the ticket charge for the infield is not being increased. Tickets will remain $50 in advance and $60 on race day (May 16). Top of the Stretch seats are $110.

Coolers with food will still be allowed in the infield and beverages will be available inside. The cost of water has not yet been determined by the jockey club; 16-ounce beers will sell for $3.50, Chuckas said.

When asked if he expected the beverage policy to put a dent in attendance, Chuckas said it would be hard to separate that from the potential effects of the down economy. Last year’s Preakness recorded about 9,000 fewer attendees than in 2007.

“Is it possible there’s going to be a downturn in attendance? Sure,” he said. “But what we’re putting out there is going to be a first-rate and first-class experience.”

Meanwhile, security is not being increased, and Chuckas said he is not expecting a problem with fans sneaking in alcohol.

“I think that most [people] ... while they may or may not like it, we’re getting the word out now and they can be prepared,” he said. “I believe we’ll have limited issues.”

According to Chuckas...

Click here to access rest of story from TDR or e-mail author for full text.