New beer policy saps atmosphere

Associated Press
Horse racing fans gathered before the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. A new policy prohibiting fans from bringing in their own beer severely cut into attendance at Pimlico Race Course.

BALTIMORE --- The Preakness infield was set up for the usual huge crowd. The stage for ZZ Top was ready, the security guards in place and the vendors eager to hawk their beer, food and souvenirs.


Only one thing was missing: people.

The new policy prohibiting fans from bringing in their own beer severely cut into the attendance Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. Sections of the infield ordinarily jammed with teenagers, rowdy young men and scantily clad women remained completely empty. Lines at the portable toilets, concession stands and souvenir shops were nonexistent.

That might seem like a good thing to those in attendance. But many rated the new format a complete dud.

"They need to bring back the coolers, bring back the party. There's nothing going on here," said Wallace Moore, 28, who set up his chair about 30 feet from the track. "Last year, I couldn't even find a spot to sit down. Now I've got my pick of anywhere."

Moore and Anthony Cristo drove down from New Jersey for the fifth year in a row. After Cristo accidentally spilled his beer, he lamented his $3.50 mistake by saying, "If I did that last year, I'd just grab another."

To compensate for not allowing fans to bring in alcohol, Pimlico officials sold beer at modest prices. From 8-11 a.m., fans could get a cup for a buck. After that, it was $3.50 for 16 ounces of draft beer.

"Kids my age won't pay that much," said 21-year-old Kendall Wadsworth, who went to the race with her father. "I talked to a lot of my friends, and if they can't bring their own beer, they're not going to go. If you could pay $1 all day that would be different. It wouldn't cost that much to get wasted."

The policy change was designed to create a different environment in the anything-goes infield, which created a sometimes-dangerous scene -- one that wasn't particularly inviting for families or anyone without a helmet.

"It needed to change," Tom Chuckas, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said early Saturday afternoon. "We tried to reduce some of the craziness, but tradition is very difficult to change and culture is difficult to change. It's going to take a couple of years to modify that."



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