It's Kentucky Derby weekend so we're revisiting Kevin Van Valkenburg's popular piece from last year comparing the Run for the Roses and the Preakness. We've dispatched Kevin to Kentucky to do some actual research for a change and see if it still holds up. Read his new Derby stories here.
The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness are like fraternal twins. Though forever linked, they couldn't be more different.
While the Kentucky Derby has staked its reputation to its air of wealth and class, the Preakness has always been more comfortable as the Everyman's leg of the Triple Crown. You might spend $300 a night on a hotel at the Derby, and you might fork over $60 to park in someone's yard outside the Preakness, but both might feel like a bargain, depending on what you're looking for.
Before we reach the final turn in the buildup to the Preakness and before we put another furlong between ourselves and the Derby, we thought we'd size them up for a point-by-point comparison, like boxers at a weigh-in. Hope you enjoy.
Surprisingly, Preakness. Who wants to rub elbows with boring rich people who know less about horse racing than they do about politics? Get them out of our way before we spill Coors Light on their Armani. We just spotted Gary Williams and want to buy him a drink.
"Maryland, My Maryland" was originally a nine-stanza poem written by school teacher James Ryder Randall upon hearing the news that Union troops were busting through Baltimore. It is, essentially, a call for Marylanders to take up arms against the North and brazenly refers to President Lincoln as both a "tyrant" and a "despot." Many scholars, including Frederick Douglass, felt that "My Old Kentucky Home," written by Stephen Foster, helped awaken sympathy for slaves on Southern plantations.
Derby. In addition to the uncomfortable political undertones, "Maryland, My Maryland" loses points because it is sung to the tune of "O, Tannenbaum." Even Paula Abdul would take issue with that lack of originality ... at least before complimenting Maryland's competitive spirit and then losing her train of thought.
Grandstand: big expensive hats, sun dresses, seersucker suits, anything that smells like money. Infield: capris, cargo shorts, halter tops, T-shirts, breasts.
The second-greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing rich people that Early Times was a good whiskey to use in mint juleps.
Preakness. Natty Bohs and Berger cookies are the perfect Preakness breakfast, kids!
The scene of Hunter S. Thompson's famous piece, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," it helped launch gonzo journalism. On the lame side, you can't bring your own beer inside the gates.
Sort of like Caligula's Rome crossed with MTV's Spring Break, but with less attractive people. More disgusting acts are committed per square foot during the Preakness than just about anywhere else in the country. About the only thing you cannot do is fight. Also, look out for beer grenades!
Two must-haves when attending the Preakness infield: sunscreen, penicillin.
Preakness. Yeah, depravity!
The best 3-year-olds in the world, most of whom are anonymous, unless you are the kind of guy who hangs out at the track all day, every day, smoking cigars, drinking bourbon and studying a racing sheet, in which case you are awesome.
Say what you want about the Preakness, but it always has the Kentucky Derby winner, and the possibility for a Triple Crown is still alive. C’mon, Big Brown, momma needs a new pair of shoes!
OK, so one time at the Preakness, a guy ran on the track and tried to punch a horse. And we still don’t have slots to play while you wait. And, yeah, Barbaro ran his last race here. And the grandstand looks like a shuttered steel mill. Did we mention you can bring your own beer?
Overall winner: Preakness
The Kentucky Derby is like a cross between the circus and the opera for rich people, only with more drinking and less-tasteful nudity.
The Preakness is more like a working-class celebration, something out of a Damon Runyon short story. It's the people's horse racing event, and it's as exciting as it is unpredictable.
You never know whether the power is going to fail or whether you’re going to find true love at the bottom of an inflatable pool that’s filled with warm beer. Plus, who knows how many more years the Preakness will be in Maryland?
Drink up and place those bets while you still can.
- Kevin Van Valkenburg
Originally published May 13, 2008.
Photos (from top): Hugh Hefner and girlfriends - AP; Paula Abdul - AP; Derby fan in pink hat - AP; Natty Boh sign - Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis; Preakness fan with helmet - Baltimore Sun photo by Christopher T. Assaf; Cigar smoking man - AP; Preakness infield - Baltimore Sun photo by Christopher T. Assaf.