When Preakness showed up at the brand-new...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Preakness showed up at the brand-new Pimlico Race Course in the autumn of 1870 to make his racing debut, rival trainers joked that he looked more like a cart horse than a legitimate stakes contender.

Named for the New Jersey town where he had been trained, Preakness (from the Indian word Praquales meaning quail woods) had been so clumsy as a 2-year-old that his owner had kept him out of racing until the rest of his body caught up with his oversized feet.

The big, ungainly colt was entered in the first stakes race at Pimlico -- the Dinner Party Stakes, so named because the winning owner had to buy dinner on the following day for all the losers. On Oct. 27, 1870, the third day of racing at Pimlico, eight horses went to the starting gate before 12,000 spectators.

The massive New Jersey colt easily outpaced the rest of the field over the two-mile course, crossing the finish line in the not terribly swift time of 3:47 minutes. In second place followed Ecliptic, while the favored Foster finished third.

This order of finish was indeed fortunate for posterity, else we would be eagerly awaiting the 117th running of the Ecliptic Stakes, or perhaps the Foster Derby. A new stakes race introduced at Pimlico three years later was named in honor of Preakness at the behest of Gov. Oden Bowie.

The owner of Preakness later shipped his stable to England, where the horse was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton. Preakness kicked the duke, who became enraged and fetched a gun to kill the horse. The duke was vilified by British public opinion for laying poor Preakness low, and his action contributed to the development of English laws banning cruelty to animals.

Here are more highlights from Preakness history, from the race records and the recollections of participants and fans:

Tuesday, May 27, 1873: As the Fifth Regiment Band played "Dixie" -- then Pimlico's theme song -- seven horses went to the starting gate for the 1 1/2 -mile inaugural Preakness Stakes. The betting favorite was Catesby, owned by Oden Bowie, the former governor and president of the Maryland Jockey Club. But an 11-1 long shot named Survivor finished 10 lengths in front of its closest challenger. The winning margin still stands as a Preakness record. Survivor took home a first-place prize of $1,800; the second-place horse earned only $200. Catesby came in fourth, 23 lengths back.

May 24, 1877: The U.S. Congress adjourned to watch the Preakness from reserved chairs on the clubhouse veranda.

May 11, 1888: On a drizzling, foggy afternoon, a mystery colt without a name flew across the finish line in second place and then disappeared into the gathering mist, to become a ghostly part of Preakness lore.

May 10, 1889: Only two horses competed in the Preakness in 1883 and 1884 and in 1889, it was again a lonely race between two entries. Following this dismal 17th running of the Preakness, the Maryland Jockey Club discontinued all flat racing at Pimlico.

June 10, 1890: The Preakness Stakes was run once at Morris Park, N.Y., on the same card as the Belmont Stakes. For the next three years, the Preakness apparently was not held at all. From 1894 through 1908, the race found a temporary home at Brooklyn's Gravesend Course.

May 12, 1909: The Preakness returned to Pimlico, though it certainly was not the main attraction on the card. Years later, the winning jockey in this race, Willie Doyle, expressed his dying wish to have his ashes spread across the finish line at Pimlico. And so they were.

May 7, 1910: Such a vast throng crowded into Pimlico to watch the Preakness that the track management opened the infield to the public for the first time. Because of the death of King Edward VII of England, a devoted fan of Thoroughbred racing, flags at Pimlico were flown at half-staff.

May 12, 1917: The Woodlawn Vase made its debut as part of the prize awarded to Preakness winners (in 1917, it went to Kalitan). A magnificently ornate silver cup fashioned by Tiffany in 1860, the vase had been buried on its owner's Kentucky plantation during the Civil War to prevent the government from seizing it and melting it down for munitions. A Baltimorean named Thomas Clyde won it in a race at Saratoga in the early 1900s, and later turned it over to the Maryland Jockey Club.

May 15, 1918: For the only time in its history, the Preakness was run in two divisions. According to Maryland Jockey Club rules, no horse could be denied admittance to a stakes race. Entrance fees were paid for 26 horses but Pimlico could not accommodate all on the track at one time. The club contributed additional prize money so the two winners -- War Cloud and Jack Hare Jr. -- received purses of nearly equal value.

May 14, 1919: Four days after winning the Kentucky Derby, Sir Barton easily captures the Preakness. In June, Sir Barton took the Belmont Stakes as well, becoming the first Triple Crown winner.

May 18, 1920: After spending the winter in the Eastern Shore town of Berlin, the celebrated 3-year-old Man O'War stormed to victory before 23,500 fans who overflowed Pimlico's stands, clubhouse and bleachers. Man O'War was such a drawing card that nearly 20,000 admirers showed up at Old Hilltop earlier in the week just to watch his pre-race workout.

May 12, 1924; in a race that was probably the wettest Preakness of all time, Nellie Morse sloshed her way to victory through a track nearly 6 inches deep with mud and become the fourth and, to date, the last filly to win the Preakness. The owner was cartoonist Bud Fisher, creator of the comic strip " Mutt and Jeff," who was somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard the steamship Majestic at post time. HIs trainer accepted the Woodlawn Vase is Fisher's stead, but promptly walked away and left the cup sitting there other the ceremony.

May 8, 1925: As 38,000 fans looked on, a long shot named Coventry -- part of a three-horse entry that went off at 22-1 -- captured the Preakness with an extremely impressive stretch run. Coventry's victory, paying $45.60 for $2 win ticket, remained the biggest Preakness upset until 1975, when Master Derby broke the record and paid $48.80. In 1925, the distance of the Preakness was set at 1 3/16 miles.

May 10, 1926: The Baltimore City council is forced to cancel a meeting for lack of a quorum, because too many of its members were attending the Preakness.

May 9, 1931: Maryland Jockey Club officials decree that the Preakness will be run always on a Saturday .

May 13, 1933: In the depths of the Great Depression, much of the pre-race glitter and festivity among the wealthy and prominent was absent. A single private railroad car arrived at Union Station for the event. The first-place purse was reduced from $50,000 to $25,000. Typical of many among the lackluster crowd was the banker who declared that he was much more relaxed than usual for this Preakness, because he already had lost all his money in the stock market crash. Brokers Tip, a favorite among those who still had cash to bet, finished dead last.

May 11, 1940: Preakness results were bumped off the front pages of local newspapers by news of the war in Europe: Nazi paratroopers landing in Holland and Winston Churchill's first day as prime minister of Great Britain. Fifty thousand people -- including former heavyweight champions Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney -- watched as one of the more entertaining entries, Andy K., ran fast but had an unfortunate tendency to make turns where they weren't. Race winner Bimelech became the first to receive a blanket of black-eyed Susans instead of roses; the flowers were imported from California just before the race.

May 8, 1943: In the infield, the presence of thousand of troops in uniform and workers in factory garb provided a constant reminder the United States remained a nation very much at war. Only four out of the year's 345 eligible 3-year-olds entered the race, which was easily dominated by the legendary count fleet.

May 18, 1957: Again Pimlico had fallen on hard times, but an enthusiastic outpouring of 32,800 fans on Preakness Day and the success of a rebuilding and modernization program at the track put a damper on plans to merge Old Hilltop with Laurel. Vice President Richard M. Nixon presented a replica of the Woodlawn Vase to the owner of winner Bold Ruler. (By now, the original cup was so valuable that the winners refused to be responsible for it. They received a half-size replica instead.)

May 20, 1978: In a thrilling reprise of their down-to-the-wire duel in the Kentucky Derby, Affirmed -- the 1-2 favorite ridden by teen-age jockey Steve Cauthen -- edged Alydar at the finish line by a neck. Off the track, the Preakness crowd of 81,261 (including 50,000 in the infield) consumed 40,000 hot dogs, 4,000 crab cakes and 25,000 black-eyed Susans, the unofficial Preakness concoction of rum, vodka and grapefruit juice.

May 18, 1985: Tank's Prospect won the 110th Preakness in the record time of 1:53 2/5. Following a policy adopted the previous year, track management prohibited fans from carrying glass bottles, kegs and ladders into the infield. "People would stand on the ladders," recalled one veteran policeman, "block somebody's view, and then get knocked off the ladders. We had terrible fights out there, fights like you wouldn't believe. Now all we have to worry about are people bombed out of their minds. That's much easier to deal with, believe me."

May 20, 1989: More than 90,000 fans wedge themselves into Old Hill-top to see Sunday Silence win by a nose. It was one of the messiest Preaknesses ever, with jockeys bumping and jostling each other, and horses swining wide all over the track; Sunday Silence survived a rare foul claim before being named the official winner.

May 18, 1991: Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold pulled one of the worst fades ever witnessed at Pimlico, leaving the way open for upstart Hansel to capture the 116th Preakness. Strike the Gold struggled home in sixth place, 11 1/2 lengths back.

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