The Preakness Stakes is the classic and much anticipated second race in the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Often called the “Race for the Black-Eyed Susans”, referring to the blanket of yellow flowers placed upon its winner, the race is held at the Pimlico Race Course of Baltimore, Maryland.
The annual race takes places on the 3rd Saturday in May, two weeks after the first of the Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, and prior to the third race, the Belmont Stakes, which is held in June.
At Pimlico, three-year-old Thoroughbred horses compete on a 9.5 furlong (1-3/16 mile) dirt track. Winners and owners, along with the prize money, get the honor of parading into the Winner’s Circle with that golden coat of flowers draped around the horse’s elegant neck and taking “ownership” of the 34 inch tall, 29.12 pound famous “Woodlawn Vase” for the year.
Should the winner of the Preakness Stakes have also won the Kentucky Derby, excitement begins to mount as horse-racing fans begin to speculate whether that horse will go on to win the Belmont Stakes, thereby winning the coveted Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
But, in good humor, not all is what it seems at Preakness.
In 1940, it was proposed to drape the winning horse in a garland of Black-Eyed Susans, Maryland’s state flower. But there was a problem – the race is run nearly two months before the flowers come into bloom. So, a laurel of yellow daisies with centers painted in black lacquer to attain the appearance of a Black-Eyed Susan adorns the winning horse.
And the Woodlawn Vase, well, a replica of the Woodlawn Vase is given to the winning horse's owner. The trophy was created in 1860 at Tiffany and Company for the former Woodlawn Racing Association, and with its silver design assessed in 1983 at $1,000,000, it is the highest valued trophy in US sports.
Until 1953, Preakness winners were awarded the vase to keep until the next Preakness. But, when A. G. Vanderbilt and his horse, “Native Dancer”, won the Preakness, Vanderbilt’s wife didn’t want the responsibility of safekeeping the vase, and things changed. Now the winner is given a $30,000 replica in sterling that he or she can keep, while the real Woodlawn Vase remains on display at Baltimore’s Museum of Art. The vase is, however, brought to the racetrack under the safekeeping of a security guard for the winner’s presentation ceremony.
Since opening its clubhouse doors in October of 1870 and hosting its first spring race in 1873, the Pimlico Race Course has lasted several wars, the Great Depression, fires, storms, and many legendary Thoroughbreds. Those horses having graced its dirt track with their thundering hooves include, Sir Barton, Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, War Admiral, Cigar, and Citation.
Between 1870 and 1966, for racing fans, there was no other place to be on Preakness day than at Pamlico’s expansive Victorian “Old Clubhouse”. Men and women, “dressed to the nines”, were served by white-coated waiters, directed by a tuxedo clad maître d’. Elegance was the order of the day in the Old Clubhouse’s extravagant menus, polished wood floors, numerous sitting rooms, broad wrap-around porch, and baroque cupola. But in 1966, the building was destroyed by an 8-alarm fire – and with it more than nine decades of heirlooms and memories. A token replica of the destroyed building’s cupola now sits in the infield, topped with the horse and jockey weathervane that adorned the original clubhouse.
The historical Pimlico began at an 1868 dinner party in Saratoga, New York, where former Maryland Governor Oden Bowie and his friends, all prominent racing enthusiasts, agreed to race their yearling horses when they became three year olds. The winner would have the dubious honor of picking up a dinner tab for the losers. The stake gained so much publicity and became such a huge event that both the Saratoga and the American Jockey Club bid on hosting it. But Governor Bowie vowed to build an iconic racetrack in his home state of Maryland. Thus, the Pimlico Race Course was built in Baltimore.
The “Dinner Party Stakes” took place on Pimlico’s opening day, October 25, 1870, and the former mayor named the race track in honor of the winner: “Preakness”, a colt hailing from Preakness, New Jersey and the Milton Holbrook Sanford Preakness Stables.
Preakness’ jockey, Billy Hayward, upon winning the stakes, strode to a wire spanning the track near the judge’s stand and untied a silk bag of gold coins – the winnings. Supposedly, this is how the phrases “down to the wire” (at the finish line) and “purse” money came to be.
The Preakness Stakes were held at other locations during the early years, including a 15-year run at Gravesend Rack Track on Coney Island between 1894 and 1908. But in 1909, the Preakness Stakes returned to Pimlico, where it has since been held.
Upon declaring an official Preakness winner, a painter ascents to the tip of the clubhouse’s copula replica to paint its weathervane, applying the winner’s silk colors to the horse and jockey. The colors remain on the vane until a new winner is declared in the next year’s Preakness.
The Black-Eyed Susan blanket measures 18 X 90 inches, uses more than 80 bouquets of daisies, and takes a full two days to create with 3 three people working on it. Once completed, the blanket flowers are then misted with water and placed in refrigeration until the day of the Preakness.
During the Civil War, racing was put on hold and the Woodlawn Vase had to be kept safe, lest it be discovered and melted into ammunition. To accomplish this, it was buried in the ground at Woodlawn, and then dug up again when racing resumed in 1866.
Pimlico is the only track to have been responsible for the adjournment of Congress. In 1877, the House of Representatives adjourned to watch a race between Tom Ochiltree, Parole, and Ten Broeck, which became known as “The Great Race”.
The colors of Preakness winners in 136 races have been:
Greatest Speed Record:
*Per the Daily Racing Form (DRF):
Per Pimlico: 1 and 3/16 miles in 1:53 2/5
*During the 1973 Preakness, a malfunctioning timer stopped the clock on Secretariat at 1:55. Two DRF clockers timed him at 1:53 2/5. However, the Maryland Jockey Club declared Secretariat’s official time to be that of a Pimlico clocker, who timed the race at 1:54 2/5. The DRF still holds Secretariat as the fastest Preakness Stake’s winner in history.
Margins of Victory:
Most Jockey Victories:
* Among his five Preakness wins, Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day set a record by winning the Preakness for three consecutive years, starting in 1994.
Most Trainer Victories:
Preakness fillies – 53 have competed, of which 5 have won:
*Rachel Alexandra also has the interesting distinction of being the only horse to win from the farthermost outside position at the 13th post.