The story of thoroughbred horse racing in Maryland begins in Colonial America and hurtles through the decades with a force of star power that no state outside Kentucky can match.
George Washington bet here. Man O' War learned to race here. Triple Crown champions such as Citation and Secretariat won here. Legends such as Native Dancer and Kelso are buried here.
A new chapter in the tale is written every year with the running of the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, set for Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
"Other states would love to have the history and heritage we do," said Tim Capps, executive director of the Maryland Jockey Club, which is the country's oldest sports organization, founded in 1743.
But much of the history is buried in basements, lost to time and ignored by all but a few, its tangible attestation disdained and scattered like a pile of dry leaves dispersed by a springtime wind.
"There is stuff all over the place," Capps said.
A priceless assortment of photographs, newspaper clippings, trophies, graves and other memorabilia is stashed at a far-flung array of Maryland farms, homes, museums and libraries.
The Woodlawn Vase, the 143-year-old silver trophy awarded to the Preakness winner, is in a Maryland Historical Society gallery on Monument Street when not showcased elsewhere.
Rare recordings once owned by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, containing the calls of major races from the 1930s, are in boxes in the library at the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association offices in Timonium.
Count Turf, winner of the 1951 Kentucky Derby, is buried on the grounds of an equine auction house in Westminster.
Many of the items in Pimlico's "history" display, located near the clubhouse dining room, were found by Ryan Kelly, the track's assistant director of public relations and unofficial historian. They were in a bathroom beneath the wooden grandstand.
Bringing Maryland's history together and showcasing it in a museum dedicated to horses and racing is an idea that has long simmered in the state's racing community.
With more than 250 museums up and running in Maryland featuring everything from light bulbs to dimes to visionary art to baseball, the absence of a racing museum represents, for some, a fundamental hole in the state's cultural fabric.
A broad-based museum also would include the histories of steeplechase racing, harness racing, equestrian riding and horse breeding in the state, but thoroughbred racing would be the centerpiece.
"It's an obvious and very good topic for a museum here, and in my opinion, there would be a lot of interest if it existed," said Dennis Fiori, executive director of the Maryland Historical Society.
The idea has been pushed to the background lately with the economy sagging and the state's racing industry mired in a political fight for slot machines as it faces stiff competition from neighboring states.
"Frankly, and understandably, people have been more focused on survival than preserving the past," said Joe De Francis, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.
But surviving the present and preserving the past might be intertwined, said Ellen O. Moyer, who is the mayor of Annapolis, a member of the Maryland Racing Commission and an unabashed racing enthusiast.
Model in Kentucky
"We're in about the same place Kentucky was 25 years ago; they were struggling and in need of fresh ideas that would bring fresh eyes to the industry," Moyer said. "Two things that really helped revitalize racing in that state were the creation of a racing museum in Louisville and a horse park near Lexington. We should think along the same lines."
The Kentucky Derby Museum, located on the grounds of Churchill Downs, opened in 1985 and now draws 200,000 visitors a year. It uses films, photographs and memorabilia to tell the story of America's greatest race.
The Kentucky Horse Park is a 1,200-acre working farm that features museums, theaters and a world-class equestrian facility. Cigar, the Maryland-bred champion who once won 16 races in a row, is paraded there daily before adoring throngs.
"Those two facilities restored the pride and enthusiasm in the Kentucky racing industry, and market the sport magnificently," Moyer said.
Added Pimlico's Kelly: "We could easily do the same thing here. A Preakness museum might not be as big as the Derby Museum, but it could be a little gem."
The Maryland Horse Industry Board, a state agency created in 1998, is attempting to gather support for a horse park similar to Kentucky's that could attract world-class equestrian events and celebrate the horse.
"We don't know where it will be or how it will be paid for, but I can tell you, we will find a way," said Rob Burk, the board's executive director.
Several concepts for a racing museum have been discussed in recent years. But as often is the case in the state's fractious racing community, there is a lack of consensus that hinders progress.