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Preakness faithful pack infield

May 17, 1997

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Thousands of people descended on the infield of Pimlico Race Course Saturday to watch the 122nd running of the Preakness Stakes.

Or, more precisely, to drink beer.

``It’s like a religious holiday or opening day at Camden Yards,″ said Ronnie Kornicky, while drinking a cold one before 9 a.m.

Every May, the cooler-toting masses descend on Pimlico, paying $10 or $20 to park on neighborhood lawns while dragging folding chairs and beach blankets onto the race course’s grassy infield.

``We stay until they kick us out,″ said Harry Culbertson, an infield regular who had consumed three beers before the first race went off at 11 a.m. ``I didn’t see a horse all last year.″

Sandy Driggs and her friends opted for shots in multicolored glasses, saying they had to pace themselves.

``We’re in moderation today. We’ve got a long way to go,″ Driggs said.

Hundreds of people, wearing jackets and sweatshirts on an unseasonably cool gray day, waited in line as the gates opened at 8:30 a.m. Their mission: to stake out the perfect spot in the grassy oval.

Scott Burke and Robin DeLorenzo sat in folding chairs below a flag from the U.S. Virgin Islands. They arrived early and roped off a large area with yellow and orange streamers.

Their friends from Adelphi College in Long Island, New York, would be arriving later and looking for the flag.

``We’re reliving our college days,″ DeLorenzo said.

Rob Woodbury was celebrating his 39th birthday at the Preakness. Woodbury, who has attended the race for the last five years, set up chairs across from the grandstand. The only thing between him and the horses was a chain-link fence and a lot of dirt.

``I’m not here just to party,″ said Woodbury, who was sipping a bloody Mary. ``I’m here to watch the races and party.″

He managed to make a few bets, too.

His wife, Debbie, knew the odds were against her, but she stuck to her betting strategy anyway. She always picks the gray-colored horses.

``I won $97 on a gray horse yesterday. The first horse I ever bet on was a gray horse,″ she said.

Ronnie Clayton preferred to study The Daily Racing Form.

``See this? That’s called the Bible,″ Clayton said while holding up the publication.

Clayton, who has been coming to the second leg of the Triple Crown for nine years, always arrives early to get a good spot. He likes to be by the fence to get a good look at the ponies and gathered with about 10 friends and 14 cases of beer in an area roped off with yellow police tape.

``This is a ritual,″ he said.

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