Pimlico Race Course in Park Heights drew 65,000 people on Friday and Saturday for Black-Eyed Susan Day and the 148th Preakness Stakes, making this year’s attendance slightly higher than last year’s, but still well below pre-pandemic numbers.
The race course attracted 8% more fans on both days than last year, according to a statement from Acting President and General Manager of the Maryland Jockey Club Mike Rogers, with elaborately dressed racing fans streaming in to place bets and cheer on their favorite contenders and the infield attracting crowds with performances from artists like Sofi Tukker and Bruno Mars. In 2022, the event drew 60,000-plus people over two days, Rogers said.
This year’s slight bump in attendance comes after changes to the event’s musical schedule. Last year, acts often performed during the day’s races, and were spread out over two days, with Megan Thee Stallion and Lauryn Hill performing the day before Preakness. This year, headliner Bruno Mars’ performance didn’t start until about an hour after the Preakness Stakes, and other performances were also held while horse racing was paused. The idea was that fans would no longer have to choose between music and horse racing, and instead could enjoy both.
This year’s attendance was still nowhere near the numbers the race track attracted before the pandemic, though.
Every year from 2011 to 2019, attendance on Preakness day exceeded 100,000, according to a media guide. In 2019, Preakness drew over 131,200 people, the guide said, and news articles reported Black-Eyed Susan Day drew an additional 51,500 people.
Last year, only around 42,000 fans attended Preakness, with a combined attendance of over 60,000 over two days. Organizers have only released a combined attendance number for Friday and Saturday this year, and have not yet reported how many fans attended only on Preakness day.
Meanwhile, attendance numbers at the Kentucky Derby have nearly rebounded since the pandemic. According to local news reports, the race course drew a crowd of 150,335 fans this year, only a few hundred fewer than it saw in 2019.
As attendance has dropped, so has seating at Pimlico. Since about a month before Preakness in 2019, the race course has had around 17% less seating than it did in the years prior. At the time, over 6,600 seats in the Old Grandstand were closed after an engineering firm determined they could no longer hold so much weight.
In a statement, Rogers emphasized this year’s attendance bump and said 1/ST Racing, which owns Pimlico Race Course, “reimagined” Preakness festivities in 2022. The festivities, he wrote, were “designed to reduce the event footprint for a fresh, inclusive and improved guest experience, and to ensure that the Pimlico facility could deliver that experience.”
“This year’s Black Eyed Susan and Preakness days were highly successful, and we have heard from many guests that Preakness 148 was the best yet. We look forward to building upon that success for Preakness 149,” the statement continued.
Preakness’ overall attendance woes may be part of a long-term downward trend in the horse racing industry that began toward the end of the 1990s or the early 2000s, according to Thomas Lambert, an applied economist at the University of Louisville College of Business who researches horse race gambling.
That trend is driven in part by the amount of competition from other forms of gambling, such as lotteries, casinos and sports betting, Lambert said. Three or four decades ago, horse racing had a virtual monopoly on gambling in the U.S., but now, there are so many alternatives that its dominance has been dented, he said.
There are also now alternatives to watching the sport in person as well, with the ability to watch on TV or online, Lambert said.
Lambert, who said market research suggests younger generations may also not be as interested in horse racing, doesn’t think it will go away completely — especially the more signature races like the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. But the industry may undergo changes, he said.
“I think we’re going to see more tracks close, and we’re going to see combination tracks and casinos in the same location,” Lambert said. “That seems to be the future.”