By Derek Brown (Twitter: @NJDerek)
As the poet Andrew W.K. said, "something something (inaudible) doopa whoopa party." Those words apply as much to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) today as when they were first written way back when. If you're like most people, odds are you aren't going to Baltimore to witness the race live on May 17. But since the Preakness is synonymous with parities, it is your obligation as a racing fan to recreate (most of) the experience at home.
A Preakness party bears little resemblance to the cocktail, anniversary, or birthday parties you might be used to (mostly because those tend to be awful, and the celebration of the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown is quite the opposite). Whether it's your first time hosting or you're a Preakness party veteran, it's important to put the same emphasis on your food, beverages, and ambiance as you do your wagers.
The Food: Tradition Rules
When it comes to food, there is only one white meat: crab cakes. If you aren't already planning on serving them, you've failed. Go sit in the corner for a year and post your Pinterest login to Reddit, no looking at California Chrome photos allowed.
Have some fun with your Preakness-themed menu. Curlin Fries, Tabasco Cats, or a big bowl of Chips Lang with Damascus Dip are always crowd-pleasers. If you really want to show off, serve your guests Scrappy Ts: chocolate-covered bacon woven into four-by-four inch squares and served on a Roomba.
The most popular sandwich is the Silver Charm, which is basically a Monte Cristo with a miniature horse charm hidden between the ham slices. If you're worried about lawsuits or performing the Heimlich maneuver, the sandwiches can be dipped in silver edible paint. Of course, where you go to buy edible paint is up to you and not something I'm experienced in or comfortable helping with.
While it's important for your party to tip its hand past champions, you've got to know when to draw the line. So no calling out to your guests, "who's hungry for some Snacklefords?!?" or "try a slice of Rachel Alexhamdra!"
Drinks: Mixing It Up
The Black-Eyed Susan is the official drink of the Preakness and one that very few people know how to make correctly. Compared to its simpler cousin, the mint julep, the Black-Eyed Susan is incredibly complex. It is comprised of 47 ingredients, 36 of which can probably be found at your local store. The remaining ingredients may or may not exist, which can add undue stress to your Preakness menu planning.
Feel free to put your own spin on the drink. At my house we plant a Black-Eyed Susan seed in a festive glass each spring and nourish its journey to flowerhood with sunlight, vodka, lime juice, and commercial fertilizer. Come Preakness Day, we have either a vodka-infused flower or a flower-infused vodka. Either way, it's simple and delicious.
In all likelihood, you've gotten a taste for bourbon after consuming mint juleps just two weeks earlier. In a way, racing fans are very similar to zombies in that bourbon is the life blood we need to survive. Bourbon fuels the luck of bettors. So if you consumed mint juleps during the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and did not cash any tickets, then the universe is sending a clear message that this warm, compassionate and caring elixir is not for you. Park yourself on the couch with a domestic light beer until your luck turns around.
Avoid the Infield
No matter how many of your friends are in bands, or how much time you spent building that playlist, please (I implore you) do not attempt to recreate the infield. Many well-intentioned people have gone down this path and have never returned. If the weather is nice, your party should definitely have an outdoor area, but unlike the infield at Pimlico, debauchery should be kept at a minimum out of courtesy to your guests and neighbors—and because the cost of renting a porta potty or two for a potential rooftop race is likely not within your budget.
It's probably best to avoid music altogether so as not to even hint at an infield atmosphere. As host, you are obligated when the singing of "Maryland, My Maryland" begins to distract your guests by any means necessary. See, the song sounds an awful lot like one they probably know—and you simply cannot afford to have your entire party derailed by people singing traditional German folk Christmas carols. Those shenanigans may fly at an Ernst Anschϋtz party, but this is a Preakness party, man. Your Preakness party. You dictate the shenanigans.
Place Your Bets
All of your guest should be Triple Crown party veterans. Nobody's first exposure to these events happens at a Preakness party. So you will save valuable time by not having to explain to your guests how to bet, derby myths, historical post position statistics, D. Wayne Lukas' record with Preakness runners (trivia break: he's won with all of them), or whether the "new shooters" stand a legitimate chance of winning (they don't).
And about those new shooters: the term sounds like recently licensed firearms enthusiasts, but in this context it represents horses that didn't run in the Kentucky Derby. So if a fellow guest even utters the words "new shooter" you are well within your right to mock them. Unlike the Derby, where anything can happen, typically very logical horses (see: the one that won two weeks ago) tend to win the Preakness. No need to over think your wagers, just Google Occam's razor and use that to filter out the contenders from the...sigh...new shooters.
Remember, Don't Forget the Crab Cakes
A successful Preakness party has healthy doses of the two Fs and one C: Food, friends and crab cakes. We can argue until the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) as to why crab cakes don't fall under food, but because of their significance in the history of the Preakness and the fact they are delicious and can be consumed by the fistful, they warrant their own category. Also, they are mandatory and this seems like a good time to remind you that if you aren't serving crab cakes... it isn't a true Preakness party.