May 17, 2010

Has Freakness found the right mix to save the Preakness?

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I went on a research mission to the Preakness Stakes Infield Festival on Saturday, and brought a few friends along to keep me company. While I was officially off duty and there for fun, it was interesting to observe the way the character of the event has changed as the Maryland Jockey Club has twisted the dial on its alcohol policy.

I missed last year’s event, but I was at the 2008 Preakness. That was the last year that the Jockey Club had a BYOB drinking policy. I was with a number of lifelong Baltimoreans this year, who have been coming to the infield for many years and have fond memories of the “Freakness,” getting “Preaky Deaky” at a hugely sloppy, mud-filled bacchanal. They waxed nostalgic all day about how the event has changed and lost its charm.

I’ll agree, it wasn’t as wild this year, and I’m glad I got to see the mess once in my lifetime. It went on for a long time: the running of the urinals and the decadent overconsumption. My uncle in Pennsylvania told me about his trip down to Baltimore decades ago for a race, where he bribed a security guard to get a keg into the event (BYOB has its limits), only to lose it on an entrance stairway. It rolled down the steps, scattering the crowd, and security took it away (I guess bribery has its limits, too).

I will admit that I prefer the slightly-subdued version of the infield fest. The all-you-can-drink Mug Club engendered some complaints about the length of the beer lines, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I didn’t have to watch the sky for incoming beer cans, and the crowd was pretty well-behaved.The ground was clean and dry enough that I could sit on the grass.

On the whole, it wasn’t a bad day. I even saw a few families with kids in there.

So what does this have to do with government? One of the big policy goals in Maryland is to preserve the struggling horse industry, but ultimately it falls to the businesspeople to make the right calls and run a viable trade. Preakness is a make-or-break source of revenue for the industry, so they need to find a way to maximize the once-a-year benefit. With the Mug Club infield, the Jockey Club may have found the right mix.
–Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com