The pandemic wreaked havoc on the Triple Crown schedule in 2020. The Belmont Stakes, normally the final leg of the Triple Crown, was held in New York in June, the Derby in September, and the Preakness, usually the second of the three races, came in October. None of them admitted spectators. This year, all have returned to their regular spots on the calendar.
Attendance for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on Friday and at the Preakness on Saturday was capped at 10,000 fans each, a figure that includes those in the normally raucous infield. That is a little less than 10 percent of the track’s usual capacity. (The announced crowd for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs last week was 41,472, and for the Derby the next day it was 51,838, close to a third of the venue’s usual capacity.)
The Pimlico grounds are divided into distinct spectator sections, and no crossover is allowed. Temperature checks and questionnaires to assess coronavirus exposure are being administered at the gates, and social distancing signage, plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations will be placed around the track. Despite the latest C.D.C. guidance, masks are required when not eating and drinking, and “Covid compliance officers” are reminding guests to adhere to the policies. Signs along the track promoted Maryland’s vaccine program.
The weather, as it was on Friday, was in the mid-70s and sunny. Vendors passed through the stands selling $15 Black-Eyed Susans that were “guaranteed to improve your luck at the betting window, according to one.
Ellen Charles, a granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and daughter of Adelaide Close Riggs, a breeder and owner described as “one of the grand dames of Maryland racing,” has been coming to the Preakness since she was a young child. On Saturday, she sat in an owner’s box at the finish line with friends and co-owners.
She said she usually leaves before the Preakness is even run, to avoid the traffic on the way back to Washington, where she lives. But with the limited amount of fans this year, she was considering staying put for the marquee race.
“This is heaven,” she said.