Now that the Kentucky Derby is out of the way, the focus of the horse racing world turns to Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore for the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes. All eyes will be on Derby winner Mage as he seeks to capture the second leg of the Triple Crown. Of course, Preakness is more than a horse race — it’s also a rock concert, a huge outdoor party with a Super Bowl-size crowd and a major part of the state’s cultural fabric, all wrapped into one.
For those reasons, the third Saturday in May at Old Hilltop is worth experiencing at least once if you’ve never been. Here’s a guide on where to sit and how to get to the track, with tips for the best way to experience this historic event.
If the main goal is to see the musical acts, well then, grab a ticket for Preakness Live and have a ball. General admission to the infield music festival costs $90, and an upgrade to the Mug Club, which includes unlimited Guinness Blonde, is an additional $30. ($10 more gets access to unlimited wine, too.)
For anyone hoping to see an actual racehorse, there are several options. Let’s start The Turfside Terrace, located on the inside turf rail along the homestretch, has free beer, wine and liquor; reserved table seating; a luncheon; exclusive betting windows and private restrooms, all for $756. The VIP tent boasts easy access to the Preakness Live stage, meaning you can pop over to catch Sofi Tukker without missing any of the equine action.
Along the outer boundary of the track, there is seating on the first turn ($252), in the clubhouse ($251-$324 or $420-$660 with dining included), in the grandstand ($162-$414) and on the apron in front of the concourse ($237.50), in front of the grandstand ($296) and in front of the clubhouse ($288).
Tickets in the Grandstand Upper Reserved ($162-$199) have been my go-to since the Maryland Jockey Club closed the Old Grandstand ahead of the 2019 Preakness. They’re relatively affordable, for one. I also enjoy the great view of the finish line and the rare sightline to the backstretch of the track. At the top of these sections are betting windows and food and drink stands that are easily accessible and typically not crowded.
Getting to the track
Parking is available at a separate cost of $100-$120 for an individual vehicle and more for a limo or bus. If you’re feeling lucky, there are always homeowners around the perimeter of Pimlico selling spots on their driveways for what is surely a fraction of that price.
However, a full day of eating, drinking and gambling calls for getting a ride-share or taking advantage of public transportation.
If you don’t fancy an Uber or Lyft, the Maryland Transit Administration will run shuttles from the Cold Spring Lane Light Rail stop, Poly-Western High School and the Reisterstown Plaza Metro Subway station. A $4.60 day pass is required. The track is also accessible from the 85, 30 and 31 buses.
Arrive early, stay late
Although the Preakness Stakes itself goes off around 6:50 p.m., there’s a full day of racing starting at 10:30 a.m. The best advice I can offer is to get there for that first race and take your time exploring Pimlico in all its rickety grandeur.
Walk around. Head to the second floor of the grandstand to see Raoul Middleman’s large-scale murals depicting beautifully chaotic race-day scenes of colorful characters at the track.
Sign Up for Alerts
Get notified of need-to-know
info from The Banner
Head to the paddock — between the clubhouse and grandstand — to see where the horses are saddled before each race. Size up the competition, pick a winner and head to the betting window.
Grab a black-eyed Susan and a seat for some of the best people watching around. The big hats. The brightly colored outfits. The gamblers slapping rolled-up programs in their hands, urging their picks to cross the finish line first. The many articles of clothing incorporating the Maryland flag, more than you ever thought possible.
Take in races from different vantage points to see and hear the pack thundering home. The seating areas are only going to get more packed as the day goes on. By arriving early, you’re free to roam a structure that, as dilapidated as it is, is steeped in tradition.
Along those lines, most people head for the exits after the Preakness Stakes finishes, but there’s another event on the card after that. Bruno Mars is set to take the stage after the last race concludes, and anyone with a ticket can access the infield to see the performers.
And by sticking around you might see something special. In 2016, my wife and I saw one of the owners of Exaggerator carrying the blanket of black-eyed Susans the horse had donned in the winner’s circle moments before. It’s like bumping into Steve Bisciotti after the Ravens win the Super Bowl.