After hosting several Preakness Stakes watch parties paired with homemade guacamole and margaritas, my husband and I decided to trade them for the in-person experience, crab cakes and Black-Eyed Susans. We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Pimlico and our 48 hours in Baltimore. Here are seven takeaways from our trip.
Much of what we knew about Baltimore was informed by the HBO series “The Wire.” A modicum of research led us to discover the picturesque Inner Harbor area. I am not sure if my geography classes failed me or if I wasn’t paying attention during them, but I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t realize this five-pier connection to the Chesapeake Bay existed. This area offers chic restaurants and hotels of all price points. We selected the Lord Baltimore Hotel because it is a highly rated, not outrageously expensive independent hotel that was established in 1928. We arrived late Friday evening and had time for cocktails and expansive views of the city from the hotel’s open-air LB Skybar on the 19th floor rooftop before resting up for the big day.
Perusing Twitter, a few opinions held that Pimlico’s Park Heights neighborhood is an undesirable area. While we passed places that were vacant or boarded up, I found our walk to the track to be a festive jaunt. Neighborhood residents grilled in front yards, greeted racegoers and sold parking, trinkets and restroom access. People were celebrating the Preakness and coming together, and I appreciated being a small part of this.
Our tickets were for the Turfside Terrace, where we were seated at a table in an infield tent. It was a thrill to have a panoramic view of the historic red grandstand I’ve seen on television so many times. We could not have been closer to the turf track. The tents and infield were appointed with ferns, Black-Eyed Susans and other flowers. Our tickets included complimentary libations and a gourmet buffet that proffered all types of meat, but I went all in on the seafood: stone crab claws, shrimp and to-die-for crab cakes. The Turfside Terrace accommodations were opulent, and I would sit there again in a heartbeat.
A completely different vibrant scene convened in the infield. InfieldFest featured performances by Kygo, Logic and Diplo, and I think every college student in the Mid-Atlantic attended. While it’s been a few years since I earned my diploma, and I was only familiar with a few songs in the sets, I still appreciated the energy and friendliness of this full-scale party. The crowd primarily interested in the concerts seemed to mingle well with those of us primarily interested in the horses, and I felt an easy camaraderie as we made forays into each other’s areas.
The 144th running of the Preakness Stakes
Although the top finishers from the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve did not compete, the Preakness produced its own stories that will become part of horse racing lore. This Oaklawn Park homegirl’s money was on Bodexpress, whose father Bodemeister, in one of my favorite editions of the Arkansas Derby, blew the field away by 9 ½ lengths and went on to finish second to I’ll Have Another in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Witnessing Bodexpress’s joyrun after he unseated rider John Velazquez at the gate (a harrowing incident where fortunately no one was harmed) was almost as satisfying as cashing a ticket on the horse. It was also gratifying to witness War of Will wear the Black-Eyed Susans after having an interrupted trip in the Kentucky Derby, and his victory certainly adds to the intrigue of a rematch with the top Derby finishers.
We had Sunday to further explore Baltimore. As an eighth-grade English teacher who reels students in at the beginning of each year with the help of Edgar Allan Poe and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” I was enthused to learn his grave was down the street from our hotel, and this was at the top of my Sunday agenda. The small cemetery is serene and affords opportunity for reflection, and I think we received a church credit for our time there. Back in the Inner Harbor, people rode electric scooters, paddleboats and kayaks. Families lounged in green areas. After brunch, we visited the National Aquarium, whose striking glass building was rivaled only by the stunning array of sharks, jellyfish and dolphins. We also chose to step aboard the civil war-era USS Constellation, one of the ships available to tour in the harbor.
The future of the Preakness
Initially, we thought we might be attending the last Preakness at Pimlico. We now know that the partnership will extend at least one more year. As someone who regrets not witnessing racing at Hollywood Park, I am glad we had this experience. I give it a hearty recommendation to aficionados who have yet to experience this precious jewel of the Triple Crown.