Preakness to be held with fewer fans

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Preakness 146 will take place in-person on May 15 at the Pimlico Race Track with strict COVID-19 regulations for social gatherings. This year will be significant for the Park Heights community as the Black Eyed-Susan Stakes will be renamed after George E. Mitchell, a staple in the community and former president and CEO of Langston Hughes Community, Business and Resource Center.

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Event officials rename Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in honor of the late George E. Mitchell

Preakness Stakes has been one of the most highly anticipated horse racing events in the world for the past 150 years, and though the upcoming competition will take on a different look due to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers still plan to maintain a high level of excitement that helped the race become a staple in the region.

The soon approaching Preakness 146, held annually at Pimlico Race Course, will be held with a socially distant, limited crowd of 10,000, as opposed to the usual 130,000, when it returns to action on May 15 as the second jewel of the Triple Crown Series, announced the Maryland Jockey Club and the Stronach Group on March 23.

After consultation with and approval by local and state health authorities, event officials made the decision to include fans at a reduced capacity, in addition to implementing several other COVID-19 protocols. A limited number of fans will also be included on Black-Eyed Susan Day on May 14, the opening day of Preakness Weekend.

Since the outset of the pandemic, the Maryland Jockey Club and Stronach Group (also operating under the label ‘1/ST’) have implemented stringent health and safety protocols for the safety of community members, riders, horsemen, those who work on the backstretch and 1/ST employees. 

“COVID-19 protocols for Preakness 146 will include non-invasive thermal temperature scans on guest arrival, expedited entry for fully vaccinated guests, enforced physical distancing and queue line markers, increased sanitation throughout the facility, accessible hand sanitation stations and a mandatory masking policy,” Stronach Group said in a statement.

“As a result of the enhanced health protocols and required social distancing guidelines, the seating manifest has been changed to reflect altered ticket options and viewing locations.”

A limited number of tickets went on sale to the public beginning April 5. Patrons who opted to use their Preakness 145 tickets this year instead were given the option to relocate to the nearest equivalent seating area for Preakness 146 which began March 24.

Last year’s Preakness 145 was held Oct. 3, 2020, with no fans in attendance. While the capacity is limited for this year’s thoroughbred horse race, Stronach Group CEO said “the excitement of the Preakness is not limited,” adding that “we are thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to Pimlico Race Course for Preakness 146.”

Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott also expressed delight in having fans back at Pimlico, a well-established fixture in the Park Heights community.

Besides the substantially reduced capacity, perhaps the biggest difference in this year’s Preakness Weekend will be the cancellation of the InfieldFest, the landmark music festival that unites fans for noteworthy performances, unique hospitality and curated activities. Instead, Stronach Group’s “1/ST EXPERIENCE” will introduce an alternative component called Preakness LIVE, featuring live music in a safe and socially distant environment. 

“While fan attendance will be limited, the excitement of the Preakness will still be felt across Baltimore, Maryland and the country,” said Steer of how the COVID-19 restrictions will affect the Park Heights community. “Our goal is to use the platform of the Preakness to celebrate the rich history and diversity of Baltimore and to showcase safe sports and entertainment in COVID times.”

Another twist added to Preakness 146 is the renaming of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes after the late George E. Mitchell, a highly esteemed community leader who was a staple in Park Heights for years. The former CEO and president of Langston Hughes Community, Business and Resource Center died on July 14, 2020.

To honor Mitchell’s life and legacy, Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club made the decision to rename the race “The George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.” 

The move “was made in consultation with the Mitchell Family and close community stakeholders in the fall of 2020,” Steer said.

“Mr. Mitchell was a passionate advocate for keeping the Preakness in Baltimore and was an important contributor to the passage of the Racing and Community Development Act 2020.  It is our honor to be able to recognize his legacy.”

NBC Sports will broadcast Preakness 146 live on NBC from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on May 15 with extended coverage beginning at 2 p.m. on NBCSN.