05/12/2010 11:00PM

Pimlico looks for balance in infield


BALTIMORE - Pimlico officials are trying to ride that very fine line between restoring Preakness attendance to its previous huge numbers while maintaining a decorum that is acceptable to the majority of racegoers. And there's one major variable involved in trying to resolve this dilemma: alcohol.

Last year, attendance sunk to its lowest level in 27 years when Pimlico banned fans from bringing their own alcoholic beverages into the track. The count was a stunning 77,850, down from the record high of 121,263 in 2007 and 112,222 in 2008. The 2009 figure was the lowest since 71,768 attended in the rain in 1983.

Pimlico cited the alcohol-fueled behavior that had gotten out of hand in invoking the bring-your-own ban. Over the years, the Preakness infield had become notorious for its debauchery and mayhem, with antics such as Lee Chang Ferrell running out onto the track during a 1999 race and the drunken runs atop the portable toilets in 2007 causing Pimlico tremendous embarrassment.

Clearly, infield fans rebelled against the ban last year by staying away in droves, and in an attempt to strike a reasonable compromise, Pimlico is offering a $20 all-the-beer-you-can-drink deal on top of its $40 general admission. In addition, the track has advertised heavily with an emphasis toward attracting younger fans back to the Preakness with a controversial "Get Your Preak On" campaign that some have alleged has been waged in poor taste.

Tom Chukkas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club that runs Pimlico, said the marketing campaign has been successful, at least in the aspect of drawing notice to the Preakness. What remains to be seen, he conceded, is whether the crowd count will return to previous levels while a certain degree of civility is maintained.

"It's a balancing act," Chukkas said. "It allows for a party atmosphere but leaves us in control."

Walden in familiar position with favorite

Elliott Walden knows something about coming to the Preakness with the favorite. Before he retired from training to become racing manager for WinStar Farm in 2005, Walden ran two horses in the Preakness, and both were favored at 2-1: Victory Gallop in 1998 and Menifee in 1999.

Both colts were second in the Kentucky Derby, then finished second behind the Derby winner again in the Preakness.

Walden is back this year with the WinStar entourage, hoping his third time proves a charm when Super Saver goes postward Saturday as the Preakness favorite.

"What I learned from those other two times is the Derby winner is legitimate," Walden said. "We had kind of made excuses for Victory Gallop and Menifee because of their trips and such in the Derby, and I think the fans did, too. But at the end of the day, the Derby winner beat us again. Hopefully, it turns out that way again Saturday."

Trainers, jockeys look to add to tallies

Of the nine trainers with horses in the Preakness, four already have experienced the thrill of winning the race: D. Wayne Lukas (five wins), Bob Baffert (four), Nick Zito (one), and Rick Dutrow (one).

Of the 12 jockeys with Preakness mounts, four have won the race: Kent Desormeaux has two wins, while Mike Smith, Javier Castellano, and Calvin Borel have one victory each. Castellano won with his only mount, Bernardini in 2006, while Borel is just a head away from being perfect in two tries, having been narrowly beaten aboard Street Sense in 2007 before winning last year with Rachel Alexandra.

One of the more notable statistics among Preakness jockeys is the 0 for 12 that Edgar Prado brings into the race. Prado is a Hall of Famer who spent many of his best years as the dominant rider on the Maryland circuit.

Bohannan back in Baltimore

The three living trainers who have won back-to-back runnings of the Preakness are all at Pimlico this weekend. While Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas are front and center with three of the 12 starters in the race, Tom Bohannan is working behind the scenes.

Bohannan, who won the 1992 Preakness with Pine Bluff and came back in 1993 to take it with Prairie Bayou, is now a van agent for Sallee Vans, a horse transport company. He helped coordinate the vans that picked up the nine Preakness starters that flew to Baltimore on Wednesday and vanned to Pimlico.

Bohannan, 54, said this is his first visit to Pimlico since Prairie Bayou's Preakness score.

"Everything looks the same," said Bohannan, who in 1993 also won the Black-Eyed Susan here with Aztec Hill.

Bohannan, who said he still has a horse or two in training at nearby Delaware Park, said he doesn't think about those two Preakness victories "as much as you might think."

"You see one of their pedigrees, you have a flashback," he said. "There are a lot of good memories, but I don't dwell on it."

Bohannan said he will stay here through the weekend and coordinate the vans to take the Preakness and other stakes horses back to their respective homes.

Plenty of wagering opportunities

There are ample wagering opportunities on Saturday's 13-race card, spread out judiciously over 8 hours, 27 minutes.

In addition to the usual fare of exactas, trifectas, and superfectas offered on every race, there are rolling daily doubles, beginning with race 1 and rolling pick threes beginning with race 2.

There will be two pick-four wagers available with guaranteed pools. The early pick four, beginning with race 5, has a guaranteed pool of $250,000. The late pick four, beginning with race 9 and ending with the Preakness, has a guaranteed pool of $1 million.

An all-stakes pick six begins with the James W. Murphy and concludes with the Preakness.

Pimlico will offer high-five wagering - where handicappers must pick the first five finishers in a race - on the Preakness and the 13th.

- additional reporting by David Grening