Sure, the black-eyed Susans draped around the winning horse are really daisies with some black polish applied to the centers of the flowers. And it doesn't receive nearly the media hoopla of the Kentucky Derby. But Baltimore's own Preakness Stakes at Old Hilltop (that's Pimlico Race Course to the uninitiated) remains one of the foremost thoroughbred racing events of the year. 1994 is no exception.
When post-time arrives on Saturday (5:32 p.m.), the 12 or 13 thoroughbreds entering the starting gates near Rogers Avenue will become the focus of the entire racing world. To the winner will go the lion's share of the $500,000-added purse and the prestige that will greatly enhance that three-year-old thoroughbred's future breeding value. It might even provide a showcase for this country's next Triple Crown winner.
Go for Gin, the Nick Zito-trained champion, is the only thoroughbred in the field that can still accomplish that rare feat (winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes). He is in peak condition and has impressed track veterans with his precision workouts. Key questions for Go for Gin: Will Pimlico be a sea of mud on Saturday, as was the case in Louisville for his winning romp in the Derby? If it doesn't rain, how will this colt perform at the shorter distance of a mile and three-sixteenths on a firm track with sharper turns?
Pimlico owner Joe De Francis would love to see Go for Gin romping around a very dry track on a warm and sunny day. This is, after all, Pimlico's moment of annual glory. The race card will be filled with big-stakes events. Huge amounts of money will be wagered. Celebrities will be everywhere. As many as 90,000 fans could be in attendance.
The Preakness has become much more than a single day of thoroughbred racing. This entire week has been a festive one at Old Hilltop with special races and special events. The two-week run-up to the big race has also been a festive time throughout the Baltimore region, part of a promotional Preakness Celebration that has enjoyed enhanced corporate sponsorship this year. The Preakness itself may not be for everyone, but just about everybody can find something enjoyable in all the celebratory events.
So take your pick: the likely favorite, Go for Gin? The local entries from Robert Meyerhoff's stables of Looming and Concern, the latter coming to the race as winner of the Arkansas Derby? Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham's raw, high-priced talent, Numerous? California trainer D. Wayne Lukas' Tabasco Cat? It's a wide-open Preakness. The winner etches his name in horse-racing history.