When Preakness showed up at the brand-new Pimlico Race...

May 03, 1992|By WILL KLINGAMAN

When Preakness showed up at the brand-new Pimlico Race Course in the autumn of 1870 to make his racing debut, rival trainers joked that he looked more like a cart horse than a legitimate stakes contender.

Named for the New Jersey town where he had been trained, Preakness (from the Indian word Praquales meaning quail woods) had been so clumsy as a 2-year-old that his owner had kept him out of racing until the rest of his body caught up with his oversized feet.

The big, ungainly colt was entered in the first stakes race at Pimlico -- the Dinner Party Stakes, so named because the winning owner had to buy dinner on the following day for all the losers. On Oct. 27, 1870, the third day of racing at Pimlico, eight horses went to the starting gate before 12,000 spectators.

The massive New Jersey colt easily outpaced the rest of the field over the two-mile course, crossing the finish line in the not terribly swift time of 3:47 minutes. In second place followed Ecliptic, while the favored Foster finished third.

This order of finish was indeed fortunate for posterity, else we would be eagerly awaiting the 117th running of the Ecliptic Stakes, or perhaps the Foster Derby. A new stakes race introduced at Pimlico three years later was named in honor of Preakness at the behest of Gov. Oden Bowie.

The owner of Preakness later shipped his stable to England, where the horse was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton. Preakness kicked the duke, who became enraged and fetched a gun to kill the horse. The duke was vilified by British public opinion for laying poor Preakness low, and his action contributed to the development of English laws banning cruelty to animals.

Here are more highlights from Preakness history, from the race records and the recollections of participants and fans:

Tuesday, May 27, 1873: As the Fifth Regiment Band played "Dixie" -- then Pimlico's theme song -- seven horses went to the starting gate for the 1 1/2 -mile inaugural Preakness Stakes. The betting favorite was Catesby, owned by Oden Bowie, the former governor and president of the Maryland Jockey Club. But an 11-1 long shot named Survivor finished 10 lengths in front of its closest challenger. The winning margin still stands as a Preakness record. Survivor took home a first-place prize of $1,800; the second-place horse earned only $200. Catesby came in fourth, 23 lengths back.

May 24, 1877: The U.S. Congress adjourned to watch the Preakness from reserved chairs on the clubhouse veranda.

May 11, 1888: On a drizzling, foggy afternoon, a mystery colt without a name flew across the finish line in second place and then disappeared into the gathering mist, to become a ghostly part of Preakness lore.

May 10, 1889: Only two horses competed in the Preakness in 1883 and 1884 and in 1889, it was again a lonely race between two entries. Following this dismal 17th running of the Preakness, the Maryland Jockey Club discontinued all flat racing at Pimlico.

June 10, 1890: The Preakness Stakes was run once at Morris Park, N.Y., on the same card as the Belmont Stakes. For the next three years, the Preakness apparently was not held at all. From 1894 through 1908, the race found a temporary home at Brooklyn's Gravesend Course.

May 12, 1909: The Preakness returned to Pimlico, though it certainly was not the main attraction on the card. Years later, the winning jockey in this race, Willie Doyle, expressed his dying wish to have his ashes spread across the finish line at Pimlico. And so they were.

May 7, 1910: Such a vast throng crowded into Pimlico to watch the Preakness that the track management opened the infield to the public for the first time. Because of the death of King Edward VII of England, a devoted fan of Thoroughbred racing, flags at Pimlico were flown at half-staff.

May 12, 1917: The Woodlawn Vase made its debut as part of the prize awarded to Preakness winners (in 1917, it went to Kalitan). A magnificently ornate silver cup fashioned by Tiffany in 1860, the vase had been buried on its owner's Kentucky plantation during the Civil War to prevent the government from seizing it and melting it down for munitions. A Baltimorean named Thomas Clyde won it in a race at Saratoga in the early 1900s, and later turned it over to the Maryland Jockey Club.

May 15, 1918: For the only time in its history, the Preakness was run in two divisions. According to Maryland Jockey Club rules, no horse could be denied admittance to a stakes race. Entrance fees were paid for 26 horses but Pimlico could not accommodate all on the track at one time. The club contributed additional prize money so the two winners -- War Cloud and Jack Hare Jr. -- received purses of nearly equal value.

May 14, 1919: Four days after winning the Kentucky Derby, Sir Barton easily captures the Preakness. In June, Sir Barton took the Belmont Stakes as well, becoming the first Triple Crown winner.

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