The Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico Raceway in Baltimore, Maryland, is the second jewel in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing; the first leg being the Kentucky Derby and the last being the Belmont Stakes. Held on the third Saturday in May, it is probably the most important race of the three due to the fact that the Preakness actually establishes whether there will be a Triple Crown contender or not. If the Kentucky Derby winner does not prevail here, the competition ends which can put a damper on the Belmont Stakes for those who are only interested in seeing a Crown champion.

Those who follow horse racing know that all three are fun to handicap. The Preakness Stakes is not as difficult because, unlike the Derby, favorites do well. By this second race the field has been determined by how well they performed at Churchill Downs. Of Course, there are horses entered who skip the Derby altogether. This is where the importance of the trainer comes in, deciding if their horse can handle the rigorous schedule.

Having a non-Derby horse in the race can add to the excitement and possibly offer higher odds than the favorites. Longer odds can result in bigger payouts and they can upset the applecart by beating out some of the more tried and true horses. It is still rare to have a Derby winner take this second leg. Historically, only 21 Thoroughbreds have accomplished this feat in over a century. Of those 21, only 11 have swept all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Where the Derby has 20 slots open, the Preakness Stakes only has 14. The track is a little shorter at 1-3/16 miles in length. Naturally, those who run in the first leg have preference over the rest of the entries. The supplemental horses remain on a ‘waiting list’ until race day and can fill a spot vacated by a lame or ill horse. This is not unheard of since the fact remains that these pedigreed animals are susceptible to numerous health problems and have been known to drop out within hours of walking to the gate.

The Preakness Stakes has seen history made and tragedy occur. In 2009, Rachel Alexandra, the first filly in 85 years to win first place, also became the first horse ever, male or female, to win from the unpopular #13 position in the gate. She went on to become the 2009 Horse of the Year. Unfortunately, she did not run in the 2009 Kentucky Derby but ran in the all-filly Kentucky Oaks race the day before. After her win at the Oaks she was sold and her new owner paid the $100,000 supplemental fee to get her into the Preakness Stakes to run against the colts. She did her job well.

The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, started out of the gate at Pimlico and shattered his leg in a heart-breaking moment seen by millions. After months of surgeries did not bring the horse back to health, he was euthanized in early 2007. A sad loss to the horse racing world and again demonstrates how fragile these thoroughbreds horses can be. In his honor, they have named a later race on Preakness Day the ‘Barbaro Stakes’.

The finest moment at the track is when that blanket of Black-Eyed Susans is placed on the neck of the Preakness winner. Like the Derby’s ‘Run for the Roses’, the Preakness is called the ‘Run for the Black-Eyed Susans’. The difference is the latter are fake. The month of May is too early in the growing season for the original so they have taken to painting black spots in the middle of daisies to represent the state flower. Not quite as elegant, but an honor just the same.

Tradition also has ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ sung before the race and after a winner is made official a painter climbs the Pimlico club house cupola to the ‘horse and rider’ weather vane and paints it in the colors of the winner’s silks. That definitely makes up for the fake Black-Eyed Susans.