Pimlico Race Course outside of downtown Baltimore hosts the Preakness Stakes every year on the third Saturday in May. The Preakness Stakes is often overlooked because it is the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, but it is just as important as the other two Triple Crown races: the first leg at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky, and the last leg at the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.
A horse cannot win the Triple Crown unless it wins all three legs.
Of the three, it is known for being the party race. You can expect to see antics in the infield, and it is more of a local event. The Preakness is easy to get to, cheaper than the other two legs of the Triple Crown, and a great option for an enjoyable Saturday if the weather is good.
Tickets to the Race
Everyone knows about the party on the legendary Preakness infield. It includes musical acts to add to the atmosphere. Tickets are sold online and prices going on sale in October and are nearly double the starting price by the time May rolls around. Clearly, it pays to buy them as soon as you can.
Just know that the antics are not what it used to be in terms of the out-of-control, raucous party. It is also worth knowing that you will not be able to see 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 is 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 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 several hundred dollars, but you can get cheaper reserved seating. If you are ok with not being guaranteed seats, you can enter the grandstand for less than $50. Reserved seating tickets to the Preakness are sold through TicketFly.com.
If you do not 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. 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 do not list tickets from Stubhub. It is only worth doing this if you are looking for seats in a specific area as tickets are still available on the primary market up until race day.
It used to be in the olden days, that it was not uncommon to see people throwing beer cans and doing some crazy stuff. The track has stiffened its policies regarding items you can no longer bring to the racetrack like coolers and beverages. There is still plenty of drinking, but it is managed by the track now without beer cans to toss around.
Once you get to the track you will 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 cannot get right to the rail like you would at a normal racetrack because there is seating in those areas. Instead, you will be able to wander around the outside of the grandstand and see the jockeys mount the horses in the paddock area. If you are in the infield with general admission, you will not be able to leave the infield area.
The restrictions on what you can bring in to Pimlico Race Course does not mean you will not have a good time at the race. The infield is a non-stop party with a younger crowd. You will feel like you are at a frat party and will not get to see the race other than on the big screen, but chances are you will not care. Meanwhile over on the other side of the track, the older crowd will be enjoying black-eyed Susans, the official Preakness cocktail, which is a cocktail mixed with vodka, light rum, orange liqueur, and orange and pineapple juices.
Since the Preakness is not as much of a destination race as the Kentucky Derby, flights are not as ridiculously priced. Flights to Baltimore are, however, priced higher than normal because the Preakness Stakes increases airline seat demand.
Direct flights, especially from major cities, will increase in price the closer you get to the third Saturday in May. The event generally presents a great opportunity to use your airline miles to pay for the flights rather than cash because the cost in miles will not change as dramatically from the standard rate compared to what the cost in dollars will. It is also worth looking into flights with connections if you are 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.
If you are in the Northeast, you can drive to Baltimore. It 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.
There is also Amtrak rail service to Baltimore from Boston to Washington, D.C. Amtrak makes stops in Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, and Providence and other smaller towns along the way. The train usually takes as long as driving in a car since even the high-speed Acela does not actually go that fast. Bus service from many operators such as Greyhound, Megabus, and Bolt Bus is 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 15-minute drive from downtown Baltimore. Parking at the racetrack is pricey. Parking passes range from $65 to $170 and, as you would 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 are not too expensive because the Preakness is more of a local event. There are plenty of options in downtown Baltimore with well-known chains like Days Inn, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Renaissance, and Sheraton. 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 homeowners 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.
You can also find some decent Baltimore-style barbecue at Chaps Charcoal Restaurant, great Mexican cuisine at Barcocina, and for a different change of scenery, check out Union Craft Brewery, which opened back in 2012. Its taproom keeps drinkers happy on Thursday and Friday nights when the parking lot adds music, cornhole, and food trucks.
If you are in search for the perfect cocktail, head over to Bookmaker's Cocktail Club in Federal Hill for one of the best Old Fashioned or Manhattan drinks.