Horse racing isn’t new to rapper Jack Harlow.

The Louisville native’s song “Churchill Downs” is named after the racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Derby. Its accompanying music video was filmed inside the facility in 2022.

So headlining the concert after the Preakness Stakes? A no-brainer.

The Grammy-nominated rapper first emerged in the mainstream in 2020 with his inescapable single “WHATS POPPIN,” which could be heard everywhere from the radio to video game soundtracks. Since then, Harlow’s popularity has only ascended.

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(Photos: The party goes on at Infield Fest at Preakness 2024)

He’s racked up three No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (“Industry Baby,” “First Class” and, most recently, “Lovin On Me”) and three studio albums (one of which, 2022’s “Come Home The Kids Miss You,” reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200), and he has starred in a movie remake (2023’s ”White Men Can’t Jump”). You can’t turn on TikTok without hearing his lyrics in the newest trends (“I’m vanilla, baby ...”). It’s easy to find a viral social media moment of him charming an interviewer.

On Saturday, the 26-year old opened with his single “Tyler Herro” as the crowd rapped along. He was onstage for nearly 40 minutes, performing songs including “Nail Tech,” “Route 66,” “Lovin on Me” and “I Wanna See Some Ass.”

Harlow told the crowd he was supposed to perform in Baltimore once before, but it was canceled during the pandemic, making Saturday his first time in the city.

This crowd wasn’t as lively as the one that cheered Bruno Mars last year. The smell of wet grass from a rain-soaked day overtook the area as the dreary day seemed to affect the energy of the crowd.

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When Harlow performed “Way Out,” he replaced a bar and mentioned Baltimore instead of the original lyric, resulting in the most audible response from the crowd of the set.

Harlow took the stage about an hour after the start of the last race, giving attendees enough time to get to the infield. This was by design. Starting last year, organizers of the event created a schedule that puts the musical headliners after the races instead of during. The goal: to allow concertgoers to experience the entertainment and racing, according to Tiffani Steer, vice president of communications for 1/ST.

For many in attendance, it had been a long day by the time Harlow took the stage.

“We been here all day; it’s time to go,” one woman said as she made her way through the muddy field with her friend. “We could’ve stayed if it was like 4 p.m., but it’s just too late and nasty out to keep standing in grass.”

Jack Harlow replaced a bar in “Way Out” with a mention of Baltimore, getting a boost of excitement from the crowd. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Gone are the years of seeing big-name acts such as Childish Gambino perform at 1:15 p.m., as you could have in 2015, or two days of musical performances with multiple headlining artists, as we last saw in 2022 with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Megan Thee Stallion and Marshmello.

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The scheduling of Preakness LIVE meant fans waited till much later in the evening to see Harlow, following earlier sets from Gryffin, Jordan Emanuel, Channel Tres, Frank Walker and Chantel Jeffries. Choosing a DJ-heavy schedule was intentional because of the artists’ “ability to keep the crowd energized and entertained throughout the day,” Steer said in an email. “The lineup complements the atmosphere we want to create — a vibrant celebration that extends beyond the races.”

June Rivera and Shay Shields are Delaware natives who made their way to Preakness for the first time. Rivera got two free tickets from a friend.

“I’m 40 years old, so I’m probably not Harlow’s target audience,” Rivera said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of activities going on, so the music is a bonus.”

Shields chimed in, “Don’t get us wrong, he’s got some decent songs, he’s pretty cool, so we’re definitely staying after the races to check him out.”

While Mars helped bring about 47,000 people to Preakness last year — an improvement compared to other post-COVID-19 years — it was still nowhere near the InfieldFest’s peak. In 2017, headliners Sam Hunt and Zedd saw more than 140,000 people in the crowd, the highest-ever attendance.

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Michael Pitter, a 34-year-old Baltimore native who attended Preakness concerts only once before in 2015, said he made it a goal to see Harlow. He’s not necessarily the biggest fan, but he said he believes the musical acts over the years have improved in quality compared to the 2010s and “more rap is always a positive.”

While music fans like Pitter attending is a step in the right direction for 1/ST’s goal to attract a younger crowd, it remains to be seen if it will work in the long term.

Philip Clemens, 22, said he comes to Preakness every year, but from a college student’s perspective, it’s missing something.

Clemens said Harlow and Mars are great artists, but he wants “more actual artists and not just DJ sets all day. I think they’ll have people more excited with more of a mix instead of just one actual performer at the end.”