VIENNA, Va., May 16, 2012 — The Triple Crown races are a study in contrasts, both off and on the track. Length, locale, atmosphere: the only thing in common is that all three are horse races, and Kentucky, Maryland and New York are the venues.
The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs in Louisville are in a class by themselves in many ways. Between Millionaires Row with its celebrities and major figures of all kinds in their suites of box seats, all at the climax of a full week or more of festivities, including a steamboat race on the Ohio River, aerial shows like “Thunder over Louisville” as well as fireworks, and numerous charity balls and events of all kinds, it’s a great show.
The Belmont Race in Elmont, New York, is an upscale, rarefied venue with lush grounds and socialites to match, and no expense is spared to bring the final leg of the Triple Crown to full fruition for the thousands who attend each year.
In honor and memory of the great Secretariat, a large statue of the famous horse graces the Belmont paddock area, a tribute to his victory there in 1973 when he led the pack by a 25-length margin to win the Triple Crown.
Too Early for the Preakness Flowers
In between the two, much like the bratty little brother who is struggling to keep up with his siblings, is the Preakness, located at Pimlico Race Track outside Baltimore, and like Churchill Downs is in an industrialized area devoid of the fancy trappings that surround the others. It’s the “working man’s track,” where even the floral decoration for the winner is markedly different.
Whereas the Derby has the magnificent garland of dozens of hand-inserted red roses, and the Belmont has a similar blanket of snow-white carnations, the Preakness is left to paint daisies to simulate Black-eyed Susans, Maryland’s state flower, which doesn’t come into bloom early enough to be available.
The Preakness began in 1873 with only seven horses running. Survivor, who left everyone behind and finished 10-1/2 lengths ahead of his closest pursuer, won the huge purse of $2,050.00. This was the largest victory margin for many years, until Smarty Jones won by 11-1/2 lengths in 2004.
Origin of the Purse and Down to the Wire
In the early days of the Preakness, a wire was stretched across the finish line, and the first rider to cross reached up and grabbed the “purse” hanging from it, in reality a silk bag full of gold coins, hence the origin of the money won being termed a purse, and the wire the finish line. Today that purse is worth $1 million and doesn’t dangle above the finish line.
The race got its name from a colt called Preakness who won the “Dinner Party Stakes” in 1870 when the track opened, and was named for the Preakness Stables in Preakness, New Jersey. The name comes from an old Native American name, Pra-que-les, meaning ”quail woods.”
The race was switched back and forth between several tracks, finally returning to Pimlico in 1908. Hard times fell upon the track a few years ago when owner Magna Entertainment Corporation filed for a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, lending fears of the race moving again.
The Maryland State Legislature came to the rescue on April 15, 2009, approving a plan to buy the Preakness Stakes as well as the Pimlico Racetrack if Magna Entertainment could not find a buyer.
Death of Barbaro
Perhaps the saddest footnote to the story of the Preakness occurred in 2006 when Derby winner Barbaro broke down early in the race. He appeared to survive his immediate injuries and was cared for at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania with almost superhuman as well as superhorse around-the-clock care. Though the injury seemed at first to be healing, the grand thoroughbred was put to sleep on January 29, 2007 from complications due to laminitis.
Derby Horses Arrive in Maryland
In the first few days after this year’s Derby, horses were already wending their way from the Bluegrass to Maryland. Doug O’Neill and I’ll Have Another, the Derby winner, got there early and he had settled into a “peaceful stall,” number 17, in the back barn as opposed to the stakes barn where the Derby winner is usually stabled. As the trainer said, he wanted “somewhere peaceful” for the horse and the Pimlico folks accommodated him. As a result he felt the colt was acting relaxed and at home, eating well, and he “looks fantastic,” O’Neill added.
On Thursday Derby winner even ventured out to take a good gallop on the muddy track and still looked good and at ease, making both the trainer and owner Paul Reddam feel confident of his adjustment from one track to the other.
Other Potentials Winners
Bodemeister, the Derby runner-up, will run in the Preakness, and so will Went the Day Well (4th in the Derby), Creative Cause (5th), and Optimizer (11th).
Newcomers include Pretension and Brimstone Island, who were among the top finishers at Pimlico on Derby Day; Cozetti; Daddy Nose Best and Tiger Walk are also headed to Pimlico, plus Zellarholm and Teeth of the Dog. But all that can change if and when scratches occur.
Regardless of what horses show up and how they run, some lucky horse will be sniffing the makeshift Black-eyed Susans on this Saturday at Pimlico. And he won’t care if they are daisies in disguise.
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