Preakness' past is a rich history, an eyeful

Story of Pimlico race displayed in Washington

125th Preakness

May 19, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Trainer Bob Baffert stood before a montage of photos, but his gaze seemed to focus on just one. Just 10 minutes before he would sit on a panel discussing the rich history of the Preakness, Baffert's eyes burned a hole in a striking photo of the 1943 Triple Crown winner Court Fleet, perhaps hoping that some of the famed colt's blistering speed could transcend time.

The past was on display at the Ronald Reagan Building, as the Preakness prepared to celebrate its 125th birthday by taking a gallop down memory lane. Baffert was joined by trainers Bill Boniface and D. Wayne Lukas, owners Cot Campbell and John Ed Anthony and jockey Kent Desormeaux, as the main attractions of the evening. ESPN's Chris Lincoln was the master of ceremonies.

Photo galleries were broken into 25-year periods, capturing the entire course of the Preakness, from the old Grand Stand Saloon at the turn of the 20th century(lobster salad: 30 cents) to the raucous fans who pack the infield today. The event, which was held by the Smithsonian Associates, in partnership with the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Tourism Development Board, also featured the debut of a film, "The Preakness: An American Classic," focusing on the history of the Triple Crown's middle jewel."I remember watching them paint the colors of the winning horse on the weather vane as a kid," Baffert said, reminiscing about his photo-finish victory with Silver Charm in 1997. "And then when Silver Charm won, I remember I stayed out there to watch, thinking about how I'd never dreamed they'd paint my horse's colors up there."

Although celebrity artist LeRoy Neiman will be painting the victor's colors tomorrow, that is only one of the many traditions that occurs each year on the third Saturday in May. The blanket of black-eyed Susans that awaits the winning horse is perhaps the most well-known custom, but unfortunately for Preakness officials, Maryland's state flower does not bloom until July, forcing them to offer the winner a blanket of daisies that have been dyed black in the middle.

But the greatest significance the Preakness holds is its meaning to the local community. Marylanders cherish the middle jewel as though it were truly a diamond. From Preakness' victory in the 1871 Dinner Party Stakes at Pimlico (which is where the race's name originates) through Man o' War's unforgettable surge in 1920 and Secretariat's graceful dance to glory in 1973, the past is never far from the present."The Kentucky Derby may be one of the most desired races, but for me, not winning a Preakness was what had me feel an unbelievable emptiness," said Desormeaux, a former Maryland rider who won a record 598 races in 1989, before finally winning the 1998 Preakness aboard Real Quiet. "If you can place yourself in your most fantastic dream and then open your eyes: that's what it was like for me going around that track in 1998."

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