Updated for 2016 —
Horse racing fans turn their attention to Baltimore and the running of the Preakness every May, just after the running of the Kentucky Derby. Now you can join the party in the Infield and never know there’s any horse racing going on. Or you could join the grown-ups in the grandstand for a festive day of atheticism, tradition and fun.
Even a novice can look like an old hand with a few tips that will make a visit more enjoyable. John Scheinman has covered the Triple Crown for more than a decade and knows the horses, jockeys, trainers — and the drama — of the sport of kings. In January 2015 he received the prestigious Eclipse Award for an article on a Mid-Atlantic trainer.
Yeah, it’s the sport of kings. And it’s a sport for the rest of us.
1. Learn how to bet before you go.
2. Dress for comfort and style.
People dress up for the Preakness, Scheinman notes. Join in with nice clothes in keeping with the tradition — but wear something comfortable. It’s a long day so leave the shoes that pinch or the shirt that binds home. And wear sunblock.
3. Turn yourself over to the festivities.
Scheinman suggests buying a seat rather than getting stuck standing in the general admission section. “You don’t want to stand on your feet all day,” he says. Of course, they’re expensive tickets. This is the Preakness. Get over it. Get over the crowds and just go. And tickets are still available.
4. Don’t be afraid to park on people’s lawns.
Parking at Pimlico can be a nightmare. So the neighbors get out in the street and direct people to their yards. Go ahead, Scheinman says. “They’ve been doing it for years. And it’s part of the scene. They are respectful of who’s on their lawn.”
5. Arrive as early as you can.
You don’t want to miss a thing. Inside the grandstand are vendors selling all kinds of Preakness memorabilia, horse racing art, books for sale — with the authors ready to sign them. And don’t forget the horses start racing long before the Preakness post time around 6:20 p.m. The infield opens at 8 a.m. Everything else opens at 10. Racing starts around 10:30.
6. Read the racing form.
Scheinman suggests getting it the day before the Preakness. Convenience stores sell it. “It’s a lifetime of learning,” he said. But you should be able to learn a few facts. Racing forms are also available at Pimlico.
7. Get a little closer: use binoculars or see the horses before race time.
It’ll bring the action closer. Scheinman has a couple of other ways to see more of the ponies. If you arrive early, you can squeeze into the paddock to see horses being saddled for the earliest races. “As the day goes on, it gets harder and harder to get in,” he said. Go to the track one of the mornings before the Preakness. Scheinman also recommends Thursday’s Alibi Breakfast as the place to see all the racing celebrities. Tickets are very limited. Scheinman attended the 2013 breakfast. Sounded like fun.
Another option is Sunrise at Old Hilltop. I wrote about it last year—well worth the early morning. Go from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Wednesday through Friday for a quick 20-minute tour and look at the horses during their morning workouts. This is first come, first served.
8. Buy a Black-Eyed Susan.
After you’ve drained the glass, save it. These are collector’s items.
Got some spare change? Go ahead and bet on your favorite or even the long shot. Scheinman observed that the $50 window has much shorter lines than the $2 window.
10. Pretend you know what you’re doing.
And, “talk to people who look like they know what they’re doing,” Scheinman says. “People will be helpful at the track.”
John Scheinman, a Long Island native, came to Washington, D.C., to study at American University. He discovered Pimlico and Laurel race tracks and his passion for horse racing was ignited. He has covered the sport of kings since 2001. He wrote for the Washington Post from 2001 to 2009, writing about Triple Crown victories and almost-victories, including Barbaro and Invisible Ink. He wrote about the 2016 Kentucky Derby for bleacherreport.com.
© 2013 Text Mary K. Tilghman (Updated 2015 and 2016)
Preakness photos courtesy Maryland Jockey Club