04/29/2002 11:00PM

Preakness security upped

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Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore is implementing unprecedented security measures for this year's Preakness Stakes on May 18, including banning all backpacks and coolers from the grandstand and clubhouse, Pimlico officials said this week.

In addition to the bans, Pimlico will search all cars that enter the track's main gate on both Preakness Day and May 17, when the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes is held, officials said. Extra security personnel will be stationed around the track, and barriers will be erected the week before the Preakness to limit access to areas of the track.

The Preakness is Pimlico's single most popular event and one of the most popular events in Maryland. Last year, 104,454 attended the race, a record, and over the past 18 years, at least 80,000 people have come to the track on Preakness Day.

The backpack and cooler ban will not apply, however, to the infield, where thousands of fans have converged on Preakness Day to listen to live rock music, drink carted-in alcohol, and indulge in what is considered the rowdiest of Triple Crown celebrations.

"It's a lot less of a security concern from the policeman's perspective," said Joe De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico.

"There isn't as much of a danger for an open field than if something would happen with thousands of people in a building."

Security personnel will allow people to bring food and drink - except hard liquor - into Pimlico's clubhouse and grandstand as long as the items are packed in clear plastic. Beach blankets, suntan lotion, folding chairs, cameras, and cell phones will also be allowed, officials said.