The name Preakness has been right at the top of the racing vernacular for years, as the second leg of the Triple Crown, yet many people have no idea what or who Preakness is.
There just might be a reason why the Preakness Stakes has been the scene of some of the most bizarre occurrences in the annals of the Triple Crown.
Sloppy tracks, muddy tracks, hard tracks, stifling heat, interference, injuries, a misjudged workout, and a suicidal pace have all had a hand in preventing Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winners from sweeping the Triple Crown.
The Preakness and Preakness Day have also seen a massive power failure on race day; some guy running on the racetrack and throwing a punch at Artax in the final yards of an earlier stakes race; America’s foremost race caller Clem McCarthy calling the wrong winner on a nationwide radio broadcast in 1947; Afleet Alex clipping heels and nearly falling at the quarter pole and still winning in one of the most remarkable recoveries in racing history; Codex and Genuine Risk involved in one of the most heated and controversial incidents ever; and a teletimer malfunction that cost Secretariat a track record that finally was rectified nearly 40 years later.
And how about a horse winning the Kentucky Derby by four lengths and the Belmont by 10 lengths, only to finish second in the Preakness after being blocked at the quarter pole…by his own stablemate? That ignominious incident happened in 1931 to Greentree Stables’s Twenty Grand, who appeared to be making a winning move when his own stablemate, Surf Board, began to tire and backed up right into him, blocking his path. Twenty Grand managed to gather himself and find another run, but his closing rally fell 1 1/2 lengths short of catching the winner…a horse ironically called Mate.
In 1939, Belair Stud’s Johnstown also destroyed his opponents in the Derby, winning by eighth lengths, and the Belmont, winning by five lengths. On Preakness day, a hard steady rain turned the track very muddy, and Johnstown just couldn’t get hold of it, tiring to finish fifth.
So, how ironic was it that Twenty Grand was “wiped out” by a horse named Surf Board, and Johnstown was defeated in a “flood?”
In 1972, Riva Ridge suffered the same fate as Johnstown, easily winning the Derby and Preakness, but floundered over a sloppy track in the Preakness.
There are many ways to lose the Preakness and the Triple Crown, but Chateaugay came up with a new one in 1963. The Darby Dan colt won the Derby and Belmont impressively, but five days prior to the Preakness, trainer Jimmy Conway decided to work him a mile. Conway gave a leg up to his main exercise rider, Carlos Martinez, and told him to go a nice easy mile, between 1:41 and 1:42. But Chateauguay had other ideas and wound up working in 1:37 3/5, which equaled Pimlico’s track record for the mile set back in 1923. A disheartened Conway said after the work, “This was much too fast. I never knew the boy to miss by that much.”
But this was the Preakness, where the unexplainable has become commonplace.
In the race, Chateuagay was three lengths back in 1:37, which means he ran the mile in the exact same time he did in his work. It was enough to result in a second-place finish to Candy Spots, a colt he defeated in both the Derby and Belmont.
If ever a horse looked as if the Preakness would suit his style more than the Derby and Belmont it was Bold Forbes. But the speedster managed to win the Derby and Belmont, only to lose the Preakness when he wilted badly in the 90-degree temperature and high humidity while setting blazing fractions. In addition, he returned bleeding from his left heel, the result of several nasty cuts suffered during the running of the race.
So, why have so many unusual occurrences plagued the Preakness? Perhaps it traces back to the horse for which the race was named.
In 1868, a group of sportsmen got together at a dinner engagement in Saratoga and decided to form a new stakes race. Maryland governor Oden Bowie, who was in attendance, persuaded the others to stage the event in Baltimore. The governor must haven been extremely persuasive, considering there was no racetrack in Baltimore. He promised, however, that one would be built in time for the race, which was scheduled to debut in 1870. Bowie had put the cart before the race and it worked.
Two years later, the inaugural Dinner Party Stakes was held on schedule. The race was so named because the winning owner was to host the losers at a dinner party following the race.
The new Baltimore track was named Pimlico after…well, who knows? Most of the records of the Maryland Jockey Club were destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Some say it was named for “Old Ben Pimlico’s Nut Brown Ale,” a favorite in England. Others believe it was named after an island called Pimlyco. Old Baltimore land records of 1699 show that a tract of land known as Pemblicoe was laid out in the same district where the racetrack is located.
The inaugural running of the Dinner Party Stakes was won by a big, coarse-looking colt named Preakness, who was named after a small town in New Jersey.
Years later, after being sent to England to compete in the long-distance Cup races, Preakness was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton for stud purposes.
Unfortunately for Preakness, he developed a bad temper that was matched only by that of his owner’s. One day, the two clashed in Preakness’s stall, with the Duke coming out on the short end. In a fit of anger, he went into his house, grabbed his shotgun, and killed the horse.
The incident enraged English sportsmen around the country, and the furor that resulted in Europe and all the way to America triggered a wave of reform, prompting laws and restrictions for the protection of animals. That law is enforced with such diligence today the Duke’s act surely would have resulted in a jail term and heavy fine.
Through all the crazy misfortunes, the Preakness has remained one of the most popular and enjoyable racing experiences in America. If Orb can get by this race without anything bizarre occurring he will return home the conquering hero and overwhelming favorite to become the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years.
This also is the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown sweep, and what could be more appropriate than having Orb join this elite club, considering Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery (then Penny Tweedy) only got to own Big Red because she lost a coin flip with the late Ogden Phipps, who’s son Ogden Mills (Dinny) co-owns Orb with his cousin Stuart Janney III.
If that isn’t a fitting Preakness storyline, what is?