Tracking Tradition

A look at the history behind the second jewel of the Triple Crown -- from the naming of the race to its most spectacular participants and duels

125th Preakness

May 20, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff

1870: Preakness the horse

The Preakness is named for a horse named Preakness. As a 3-year-old, Preakness was such a long shot to win the Dinner Party Stakes, his owner, M.H. Sanford of New Jersey, didn't even bet on him. Still, on that October day in 1870, Preakness won the first stakes race ever run at Pimlico Race Course by two lengths, and when a new race for 3-year-olds was begun in 1873, it was named The Preakness Stakes. Preakness himself went on to a successful career in the United States. But at age 8, in the fall of 1875, Sanford took him to England. After winning the Brighton Cup and finishing third in the Goodwood Cup, Preakness was sold for stud to the Duke of Hamilton. Both Preakness and the duke had their ways and the older each of them got, the more cantankerous they became. One day, in a fit of anger, Hamilton shot the 10-year-old horse, angering many in British society and leading to reforms in British laws governing the handling of animals. It did not, however, as some claimed, lead to the birth of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA is on record as saying it was formed in 1824.

1937: War Admiral vs. Pompoon

Owner Sam Riddle must have realized what he'd missed out on 17 years before, when he opted not to run the great Man o' War in the Kentucky Derby. His War Admiral won the Derby in a romp over Pompoon in May 1937. A week later, War Admiral and Pompoon met again in the Preakness and this time, Pompoon made it a race. The two ran stride for stride before War Admiral stretched out his neck to win by just that much. But about a month later, on June 5, War Admiral left Pompoon and everyone else in his dust. He would become the fourth Triple Crown winner despite stumbling out of the starting gate in the Belmont Stakes and injuring his right foreleg. He cruised home the winner by four lengths. Pompoon was a badly beaten seventh.

1957: Eddie Arcaro's 6th win

Eddie Arcaro enjoys his record sixth visit to the winner's circle with Bold Ruler in 1957. Arcaro made history with some of the greatest horses of the past century. His first and second Preakness victories came on Triple Crown winners Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948. In 1950 he won on Hill Prince, in 1951 on Bold, and in 1955 on the great Nashua, who was named top 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.

1920: Man o' War dazzles

Man o' War was a wonder horse and might have won the Triple Crown if he'd been entered in all three races. But his owner Sam Riddle, who had the horse trained on Maryland's Eastern Shore, decided to skip the Kentucky Derby, saying it was "too far west" for his tastes and too early in the year for his comfort. Instead, Man o' War stayed home to prep for the Preakness. When he finally came to Pimlico, a few days before the classic race, more than 20,000 fans showed up to watch him work out. Man o' War won the 1920 race and went on to sire War Admiral, who would do his daddy proud by winning the Triple Crown in 1937.

1964: Northern Dancer

It's in the genes. Northern Dancer was simply carrying on a family tradition when he won the Preakness in 1964. His grandfather Native Dancer won in 1953 and his great-grandfather Polynesian won in 1945. Above the celebration, another tradition is going on as workmen paint Northern Dancer's winning colors on the horse and jockey weathervane, a tradition that has been going on at Pimlico since 1909. Northern Dancer, who was born in Canada, was only the second foreign-bred horse to win the Preakness. He went on to become one of the most valuable stallions of all time. A Frenchman once offered Windfields Farm $40 million for him -- an offer that was rejected.

1973: Secretariat rules

Secretariat, the horse with the outsized heart, broke a 25-year Triple Crown drought when he followed up his record-setting Derby win with a Preakness victory and then sprinted into the history books at the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat captured the hearts and the imagination of the public. He also set records, though he missed one here in a controversy over the official time. The Preakness record is 1:53 2/5 shared by Tank's Prospect (1985) and Louis Quatorze (1996). But nearly everyone believes Secretariat lowered that record in 1973. Secretariat's time of 1:55 (officially adjusted later to 1:54 2/5) was set on a malfunctioning timer. The Daily Racing Form clocked Secretariat at 1:53 2/5 and that time seemed to be backed up by a timed television replay. Despite the Preakness controversy, Secretariat posted record times in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. The big red colt also holds the record for greatest margin of victory in one race, with his 31-length victory in New York, and his 36-length cumulative victory margin in all three races matched that of 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.

1941: Whirlaway and the Clubhouse

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