The Preakness Stakes is the second leg of the ‘Triple Crown’ and is held every year on the third Sunday in May at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a Grade 1 stakes race for three year olds contested over a dirt track 1 3/16 in length. Much in the same way that the Kentucky Derby is known as ‘The Run for the Roses’, the Preakness is often called “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans” due to the garland of flowers awarded to the victorious horse. The Preakness is usually the second most attended horse race in North America, behind only the Kentucky Derby.
Predating the Kentucky Derby by two years, the Preakness Stakes was first run in 1873. It got its name from then Maryland Governor Oden Bowie, who dubbed it ‘The Preakness’ in honor of a horse of the same name that won the Dinner Party Stakes on the opening day of the Pimlico track in 1870. The race was originally a mile and a half in length, and the inaugural event saw 7 horses go to the starting gate. The first Preakness was won by My Sheba, who trounced the rest of the field by 10 lengths. That would remain the largest margin of victory in the race until 2004 when Smarty Jones won the event by 11 lengths. To date, Smarty Jones’ triumph is the biggest margin of victory in Preakness history.
In 2010, MI Development created a special bonus structure that would award the Preakness winner a potential bonus of $5.5 million. The rationale behind this program was to create greater interest in the Triple Crown prep races held at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields—all which are owned by MI Development.
Like the other Triple Crown races, there are several long running traditions associated with the Preakness. Much in the same way that the Kentucky Derby is famous for the singing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ before the race, the Pimlico crowd joins in the singing of “Maryland, My Maryland” which is usually performed by the United States Naval Academy Glee Club. Another long standing tradition is the painting of the weather vane atop the Pimlico clubhouse cupola. As soon as the race winner is official, a painter climbs to the top of the structure and immediately repaints the horse and rider on the weather vane to reflect the colors of the winning jockey’s silks. The original cupola was destroyed by a fire in 1966, but a replica has been constructed to enable the tradition to continue.
As the second leg of the ‘Triple Crown’ the Preakness Stakes has been won by a ‘who’s who’ of horse racing history. In between the first winner, Ruthless in 1873 and the most recent, Lookin At Lucky in 2010 is a roll call of legendary race horses including the eleven to claim the ‘Triple Crown’. Despite the fact that the Preakness is now the second leg of the Triple Crown, two winners clinched the ‘trifecta’ at Pimlico—before 1931 the Preakness Stakes was the third and final leg with the Belmont being run second. Among the winning horses in the Preakness Stakes have been five fillies , most recently 2009 Horse of the Year winner Rachel Alexandra.
Pimlico was also the site of one of horse racing’s most tragic moments—in 2006, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down early in the Preakness while Bernardini went on to win the ‘Black Eyed Susans’. Barbaro initially survived his injuries and was treated at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Clinic—considered one of the best facilities in the world at treating equine injuries. The early prognosis was favorable, but eventually Barbaro had to be euthanized due to complications from laminitis. The ninth race of the Preakness Day card has been renamed the ‘Barbaro Stakes’ in his honor.
2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra is not only one of five fillies to ever win the Preakness, but accomplished something in her victory that no other horse—male or female—had done before. Rachel won from the outside post position—position #13—to become the only winner ever from that usually disadvantageous starting assignment. The victory made her the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness—the last time a filly had won the race before Rachel was back in 1924 when Nellie Morse was victorious.
The 2013 Preakness Stakes will take place on Saturday, May 18 2013 followed by Belmont Stakes 2013 on June 9, 2013. The run up to the Preakness will begin in earnest on Wednesday, May 15th. Pimlico Race Course will be offering special ‘Sunrise At Old Hilltop” tours all week long beginning on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, the starting positions for the race will be set at the Post Position Draw. The Preakness is limited to 14 starters and there’s a good chance for a full field this year—14 of the last 18 races have had a double digit sized field.