The Preakness Stakes is often overlooked because it’s the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, but that shouldn’t be the case. It’s known for being the party race of the three because of the antics that happen in the infield and is seen as more of a local event, but it’s just as important as the other two Triple Crown races. Just remember you can’t win the Triple Crown unless you win all three legs. Pimlico Race Course outside of downtown Baltimore hosts the Preakness Stakes every year on the third Saturday in May.
It’s easy to get too, cheaper than the other two legs of the Triple Crown, and a great option for an enjoyable Saturday if the weather is good.
Everyone knows about the party on the legendary Preakness infield. It’s turned into such a party that Pimlico Race Course now brings in musical acts to add to the atmosphere. Tickets are sold online and prices start at $55 if you buy in October, increase to $65 in November, $75 in January, $85 in April, and cost $95 on the day of the race. Clearly it pays to buy them as soon as you want to go. are sold for $70 and sales continue up to the day of the event so getting there is easy. Just know that it’s not what it used to be in terms of the party.
(We’ll get to the policies later on.) It’s also worth knowing that you won’t be able to see too much of the actual race. Infield tickets are the only ones you can buy at the track on race day, so make sure to plan ahead if that’s not where you want to be. There are also tickets for an area in the infield called the Mug Club, which includes all-you-can-drink beer. Those sell out earlier and cost $20 more than regular infield tickets.
Tickets in the seated areas go on sale during October in the calendar year before the race. The better seating areas require you to buy tickets for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan, the major filly race of the weekend, in a package with Preakness tickets. The most expensive package of tickets is $300, but you can get cheaper reserved seating for as low as $75. If you’re ok with not being guaranteed seats, you can enter the grandstand for just $30. Reserved seating tickets to the Preakness are sold through TicketFly.com.
If you don’t get tickets through the primary market, you can always look to the secondary market. Vivid Seats is the official secondary ticketing provider of the Preakness Stakes. Obviously you also have the well-known options to grab tickets like Stubhub or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ, both of which don’t list tickets from Stubhub. It’s only worth doing this if you’re looking for seats in a specific area as tickets are still available on the primary market up until race day.
Since the Preakness isn’t as much of a destination race as the Kentucky Derby, flights aren’t as ridiculously priced. Flights to Baltimore are, however, priced higher than normal (known as event pricing) because the Preakness Stakes is coming to town and airlines know that demand will be higher. Direct flights, especially from major cities, will increase in price the closer we get to the third Saturday in May. The event generally presents a great opportunity to use your airlines miles to pay for the flights rather than cash because the cost in miles won’t change as dramatically from the standard rate compared to what the cost in dollars will.
It’s also worth looking into flights with connections if you’re looking to save some money on your travel. The easiest way to look for flight is with Kayak, a travel aggregator, unless you specifically know what airline you want to travel on.
You can drive to Baltimore from various cities along the East Coast. Baltimore is approximately an hour from Washington D.C., under two hours from Philadelphia, three hours from New York City, four hours from Pittsburgh, and six hours from Boston. You can also look into the idea of flying to one of those closer cities and driving from there if you don’t mind adding a few extra hours to your trip.
There’s also Amtrak rail service to Baltimore in the Northeast Corridor starting in Washington, D.C. on one end and Boston at the other. Amtrak makes stops in Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, and Providence along with other smaller towns along the way. The train usually takes as long as driving in a car since even the high-speed Acela doesn’t actually go that fast. Bus service from many operators such as Greyhound, Megabus, and Bolt Bus are offered to Baltimore from major cities in the Northeast as well, but add at least an hour to the trip.
Pimlico Race Course is less than a fifteen minute drive from downtown Baltimore. Parking at the racetrack is relatively expensive. Parking passes range from $65-$170 and, as you’d expect, the more expensive passes are a shorter walk to the track. The local Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) thankfully offers extra service for the race that weekend. You can either take the bus, the subway, the Light Rail, or the MARC (the local railroad) to the track. The MTA website lists out all the options.
Where to Stay
Hotel prices in and around Baltimore aren’t too expensive because, as mentioned earlier, the Preakness is more of a local event. There are plenty of options in downtown Baltimore with brand names such as Days Inn, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Renaissance and Sheraton on offer. Your best option for finding hotels will be by using Trip Advisor as they can provide an aggregated search of available hotels while also providing high-quality reviews from previous customers.
Alternatively you can look into renting houses in the Baltimore area. There are a lot of options and home owners will be looking to make a few bucks with the Preakness taking place. The supply in the marketplace should be pretty good because of this and the competition of inexperienced sellers should lead to some panic. That will result in some good deals out there for you, so you should constantly be checking websites like AirBNB, VRBO, or HomeAway.
Move on to page two for more information about attending the Preakness.
When at Pimlico Race Course
Remember how I mentioned the Preakness infield isn’t what it used to be? The days of being able to throw cans of beers at someone as they run across a set of porta-potties are over. You can’t bring in coolers or beverages of any kind. There is still plenty of drinking, but it’s done in a more expensive fashion and without beer cans to throw. A full list of security policies, including what you can and can’t bring into the racetrack, is listed here on the Preakness website.
Once you get to the track you'll probably want to figure out where you can wander around. Gates open at 8 a.m. with the first race starting at 10:30 a.m. Given the seating of the Grandstand, you can’t get right to the rail like you would at a normal racetrack because there’s seating in those areas. Instead you’ll be able to wander around the outside of the Grandstand and see the jockeys mount the horses in the paddock area. If you’re in the infield with general admission, you won’t be able to leave the infield area.
The restrictions on what you can bring in to PImlico Race Course don’t mean you won’t have a good time at the race. The infield is a non-stop party with a younger crowd. You’ll feel like you’re at a frat party and won’t get to see the race other than on the big screen, but chances are you won’t care. Meanwhile over on the other side of the track, the older crowd will be enjoying Black-eyed Susans, cocktail mixing vodka, light rum, and orange liqueur with orange and pineapple juice.
Out in Baltimore
If there’s any food synonymous with Maryland, we all know it is crab. There’s plenty of that on offer in Baltimore. Faidley Seafood located downtown has won many a competition with its crab cakes. (They’ve got great oysters too, as does Thames Street Oyster House and Ryleigh’s Oyster.) Faidley has beaten out Gertrudes, which serves some solid crab cakes closer to the racetrack. Pierpoint Restaurant down near the water is another good option for crab cakes. Bo Brooks in Canton does some great steamed crabs in pickle juice and beer if you’re looking for something unique.
Finally, Jimmy’s Famous Seafood was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and is known for having great crab and other seafood dishes.
There’s more to life than crab, so there are other options to sample in Baltimore. Chaps Charcoal Restaurant serves up its famed Pit Beef sandwiches topped with onions and “Tiger Sauce,” a combination of mayonnaise and horseradish. Those coming in hungry can go big with “The Raven,” featuring the same Pit Beef, onions, and “Tiger Sauce” as well as corned beef, turkey, American cheese, and barbecue sauce. People are always in search of good pizza and you’ll find that at either Joe Squared, Johnny Rad's, or BOP Brick Oven Pizza.
Everyone loves Mexican, which is why you’d be remiss to pass on Barcocina. Duck confit empanadas and lobster guacamole will convince you it’s worth the trip. The name Johnny Sanchez probably doesn’t make you think of quality Mexican cuisine, but the taqueria from elite chefs John Besh and Aaron Sanchez in Horseshoe Casino actually delivers, specifically the tostados.
The best burger in Baltimore can be eaten at Parts & Labor, where the type of burger changes frequently. The recently showcased “Summer Classic” is simple, but the garlic mayo and cheddar really give nice flavor to the ground dry aged chuck. The rest of the menu featuring local meats, specifically the charcuterie, is also a winner. Bryan Voltaggio gained acclaim from his time on Top Chef and his new restaurant Aggio serving modernized Italian is one of the hottest places in town these days. The new Azumi in the Four Seasons delivers the best sushi in town, but the Waygu beef is very food too.
Belgian beer is big across the country these days and Baltimore offers its own with De Kleine Duivel. They offer over 150 bottled beers and eight rotating drafts. Union Craft Brewery opened back in 2012 and its taproom keeps drinkers happy on Thursday and Friday nights when the parking lot adds music, cornhole, and food trucks. Those in need of a fine cocktail should head over to Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill. There’s good food too, but the cocktail menu is the best in town. The best Old Fashioned in town is served at W.C. Harlan and who doesn’t love a great Old Fashioned.
The Manhattan, another bourbon drink we all enjoy, is the drink of choice at Rye, another cool cocktail spot in Fells Point.