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 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.
The race wasn’t an immediate success and moved several times during its early years. In 1890, the Morris Race Course in the Bronx, New York held the race after which there was no race run for the next three years. In 1894, the Preakness was revived at the Gravesend Race Track on Coney Island and remained there for the next 15 years. In 1909 it returned to the Pimlico track in Baltimore where it has been run ever since. In 2009, the parent company of the Pimlico track, Magna Entertainment, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and moving the Preakness was once again considered. The Maryland Legislature quickly approved a plan to buy the track if Magna was unable to find a buyer so for now it looks like the Preakness will remain in Baltimore for the foreseeable future.
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. Online betting site Xpress Bet has also created a $500,000 ‘consolation prize’ for horses that finished ‘in the money’ at one of the aforementioned prep races but didn’t win, yet went on to win the Preakness.
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.