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Preakness a feast for people watchers

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

While InfieldFest sat smack dab in the middle of the track at the famed Preakness Stakes, it might as well have taken place on another planet entirely.

Equal parts music festival and alcohol-fueled costume party, the celebration bore little resemblance to the pomp and circumstance of the rest of Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course during the biggest sporting event in Maryland.

Oxbow ended up winning the 138th Preakness after leading wire to wire. Kentucky Derby winner Orb finished in fourth place.

Scenes from the Preakness Infield

The majority of attendees could be seen carrying around green mugs, which gave them access to unlimited beer for a $20 fee. A better deal could be found in the bumper to bumper traffic outside the course, where some local residents were selling one-dollar bottles of beer from curbside coolers.
The Jagermeister tent, with its distinctive yellow coloring and giant inflatable bottle, served as the celebration's informal meet-up area. About a dozen festival-goers could be seen pacing outside the tent on their cell phones at any given time, imploring their friends or family members to meet them by the massive Jagermeister balloon.
Younger attendees would occasionally try and hitch rides by jumping onto the flatbeds of staff-driven carts. Some staffers would laugh and keep driving while others would immediately stop and kick the hitchhikers off.
A group of college students turned using the portable bathrooms into a high-pressure situation. Whenever someone new went in, they would count down from 60, cheering if the person emerged before the minute deadline and booing if they lingered longer. - Matt Connolly

Many attendees still came dressed to the nines -- with ties, suspenders and garish hats abounding. Austin Darigo, who had come to the race from Philadelphia, wore a blue blazer over an orange dress shirt with a bow tie and a pocket square.

"It's classy, but still a lot of fun," he said. "I've gotten a lot of compliments."

Darigo had a secret, though -- the entire outfit had been bought at a thrift store for $12 in anticipation of the event.

Others gave up entirely on the pretense of formal attire, arriving in basketball jerseys, hand-drawn T-shirts and perhaps more stars-and-stripes-emblazoned tank tops and shorts than there are American flags in the rest of Baltimore. Common headwear included horse masks and hats fashioned from cardboard beer boxes.

"When [InfieldFest performer] Macklemore asked the crowd who was born in the nineties, the place exploded," said Jayson Chilcoat, a resident. "I'm 34 and I'm like the old man here."

The straw hats and box helmets paid off when rain began falling at about 3 p.m., sending attendees scurrying for cover. People crammed under souvenir and concessions tents while many found shelter beneath the large beer trucks parked in the area, emerging only to give staffers more room to wheel more kegs out from the backs of the trailers.

The wet conditions didn't dampen the spirits of alternative rockers Chevelle and headliner Pitbull, who performed for screaming crowds despite the rain. Away from the stage, the Annapolis and Baltimore sports and social clubs hosted a touch football tournament that ended up a little muddier than organizers had intended.

"My team lost, but I scored a touchdown," said Grace Sammarco, who came from Kent Island. "This is my first Preakness, but it won't be my last."

Sammarco said she had meant to spread her bets out throughout the day but had accidentally bet on nearly every horse running in the 12th race, the actual Preakness Stakes.

"I didn't know what I was doing," she said. "But now I'm pretty sure to win."

Chilcoat had bet only on Itsmyluckyday, who placed 15th in the muddy Kentucky Derby, at his mother's request.

"Mom said he had a hard time on a wet track," Chilcoat said. "Maybe it'll be her lucky day."

Itsmyluckyday ended up with a second-place finish.

While many attendees treated the race itself as an afterthought, some were there with betting in mind. Robbin Moore-Randolph flew in from Atlanta for the second time in a row to watch the races and place bets with her father, who still lives in Maryland.

"We're here for the race -- it's something my father and I like to do," Moore-Randolph said. "I know Pitbull is playing, but I don't think I'm his demographic."

She added, though, that nothing beats watching the chaos of InfieldFest when the horses aren't running.

"You get more of the experience when you're near all the activities," she said. "We like to people-watch."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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