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SBD/May 21, 2012/Events and AttractionsPrint All
A “record crowd of 121,300” attended the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, a mark that “demonstrated the success of changes made in recent years to stem flagging interest in the sport,” according to Scott Dance of the Baltimore SUN. Among the key changes made in recent years were “instituting an all-you-can-drink deal, stepping up entertainment options and using slot machine gambling revenue to improve race tracks.” The record crowd came in “the fourth year of a new twist on Preakness, an end to a bring-your-own-beer infield policy that garnered a less than flattering reputation.” Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas in a statement said, “The numbers say it all. We had a tremendous event. We knew in 2009 when we changed the landscape of the infield it would take three or four years to get to where we needed to get, and we are back." The crowd numbers “surpassed 2007 attendance by less than 100 people” and it “completed a rebound in Preakness attendance,” which fell by a third in ‘09 to 78,000 but grew to 107,000 by last year. The handle for this year’s race was $80.46M -- the “sixth-highest betting pool in Preakness history.” Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III said, "Now, it's built back to an event the city can be proud of hosting. Everyone is happy. People are well-behaved and having a great time." Dance noted it was the “second straight year the crowd didn't require significant control by police” (Baltimore SUN, 5/20).
A GREAT DAY FOR BALTIMORE: In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd wrote for the “first time in years, no one was wailing about the Preakness possibly leaving Pimlico.” Chuckas said, “It's pretty safe. The Preakness is here. The real issue is -- and I don't want to put a damper on everything -- horsemen and breeders and the track working out something ... balancing the financial viability of the racetrack with racing opportunities for the horsemen.” Cowherd wrote with race officials signing musical acts like Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa, “there's a new energy in the infield.” Cowherd: “This was a great day at Pimlico. A great day for Baltimore” (Baltimore SUN, 5/20). Also in Baltimore, Cho & Knezevich wrote race organizers for years “have been trying to strike a delicate balance between rowdy attendees and refined horse racing fans.” But unlike recent years, “when infield crowds gained a reputation for debauchery and rowdy stunts like port-a-potty races -- racegoers said the party was less out of control.” The infield drew “both casual fans, who came just to hang out, and well-dressed and well-heeled racing patrons -- the type you usually find in the VIP tents or grandstands” (Baltimore SUN, 5/20).
NASCAR fans "are upset winner Jimmie Johnson essentially sandbagged for 60 or so laps before turning it up for a final charge to his third All-Star race victory" Saturday in Charlotte, according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Johnson won the first of four 20-lap segments and said, “Everybody knew if you could win that first segment, you could control the night.” Many fans "seemed annoyed" that Johnson and fellow drivers Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski “had no incentive to race once they won their segments.” NASCAR has “long touted its All-Star event as the only one in professional sports where the participants actually try hard, and Saturday night managed to discredit that theory” (AP, 5/20). The SPORTING NEWS’ Bob Pockrass wrote, “By lining up the segment winners in the first four spots before the final pit stops, NASCAR had hoped to create more drama for the early parts of the event. That didn't happen.” Pockrass: "No matter the format, if more tweaks don't come, it could be hard to manufacture the drama that fans expect from the all-star event” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 5/20). The SPORTING NEWS’ Jeff Owens wrote the All-Star Race has become "a game of strategy in which the drivers with the fastest cars must ride around at the back of the pack, saving their cars and waiting for the final, 10-lap shootout." Saturday's race "was bizarre and anticlimactic," and "unfitting for what is supposed to be star-studded event.” The last 10 All-Star Races "have produced little drama and few compelling finishes." NASCAR “must go back to the drawing board, rethink the rules and come up with something new” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 5/20).
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said that the league’s Concord, N.C.-based research and development center “will be taking on a more significant role going forward.” France said NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell "has taken full charge of that responsibility so we can increase our focus on the things that can make the racing better.” France added, “I think you're going to see some things like drying the track off in 20 percent of the time or so. We're working with companies that have the technology to do that, and that would be a big breakthrough for the industry” (NASCAR.com, 5/19). The SPORTING NEWS’ Pockrass noted the new '13 Sprint Cup car will “present an opportunity for NASCAR to make the racing better,” when all car manufacturers “introduce new body styles” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 5/19).