The morning of May 20, 1972, broke under dark, foreboding skies in Baltimore. A light mist fell, adding to a quagmire that had built up at Pimlico Race Course from a heavy, overnight rain.
In the solitude of a Pimlico barn, jockey Eldon Nelson spoke with trainer Del Carroll and the handlers of Bee Bee Bee about the possibility of pulling out of the Preakness later that day.
Nelson argued emphatically against scratching.
"We exercised him in the morning and the trainer wanted to know whether I thought we should run," Nelson said recently.
"I said, 'Yes, we should, because he loves the mud.' It takes a lot of heart to run in slop like that."
It turned out to be a prophetic statement. Nelson, a 45-year-old veteran, rode Bee Bee Bee to a stunning off-track victory in the 1972 Preakness, spoiling the Triple Crown bid of Riva Ridge.
Riva Ridge had romped over the Kentucky Derby field by 11 lengths two weeks earlier. Later, he would win the Belmont easily. But on that dark, rainy day in Baltimore, Riva Ridge, the prohibitive favorite in the Preakness, could do no better than fourth place, some seven lengths behind Bee Bee Bee.
"He was the horse to beat in the race, but he didn't like the mud," Nelson said of Riva Ridge. "On a fast track, I don't think there's any question how it would have turned out."
The 20 years since Bee Bee Bee's victory have not been kind to key figures of the day. Carroll, the trainer, has since died from a training accident. Nelson, now 65, has myasthenia gravis, a muscular and nervous disorder for which there is no cure. He last rode in 1973 before going back to his 560-acre cattle ranch outside Grenola, Okla.
Bee Bee Bee, meanwhile, disappeared from the American racing scene not long after his moment of fame. A Maryland-bred, Bee Bee Bee was owned by Will Farish. In 1974, though, he was purchased by the Japanese Racing Association and exported for stud duties.
Almost two decades later, Bee Bee Bee, at 23, remains at stud. Yasuhiko Haruta of the JRA said the horse has sired 404 colts, including 223 winners and eight graded stakes winners during his time in Japan.
The Preakness was the only Triple Crown race that Bee Bee Bee had entered. Nelson said the horse did not respond well to travel.
"We'd take him in early to a race, or not at all," Nelson said. "He was not the kind of horse that Riva Ridge was. On a given day, he could run with the best of them. But things had to go his way."
Bee Bee Bee, with Maryland roots, raced often in state. The son of Better Bee and Paula, a Maryland mare, Bee Bee Bee was foaled at Carey Rogers' Goodwill Farm in Monkton.
He was originally owned by Bill Miller, who sold Bee Bee Bee and 20 other horses to Farish, the owner of Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky.
Bee Bee Bee broke his maiden at Pimlico in the spring of 1971 and would win twice at Timonium that same year, including an allowance race by five lengths. Aside from the Preakness, his stakes victories were in the Juvenile at Hawthorne Park and the $36,700 Local Survivor Stakes over six other state-bred horses.
Because of that background, Bee Bee Bee was well known to local bettors. On Preakness day, 1972, the smart bettors may even have known that he loved to run in the mud. But few could have anticipated what he would do to Riva Ridge.
The intimidating presence of Riva Ridge had kept the field to nine horses, two of which had run in the Derby. The rain and sloppy conditions cut the field to seven when two more horses -- Upper Case, a Riva Ridge stablemate, and Freetex --were scratched.
Once the race started, it was all Bee Bee Bee.
Running out of the No. 7 post, Bee Bee Bee got the lead by the clubhouse turn, then drew out by four lengths around the far turn. He finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of fast-closing No Le Hace in 1 minute, 55 3/5 seconds. Key To The Mint beat Riva Ridge, the 1-3 favorite, by a neck for third.
Lucien Laurin, Riva Ridge's trainer, criticized the ride of jockey Ron Turcotte for staying off the pace.
Bee Bee Bee returned $39.40 for a $2 bet, one of the highest payoffs in Preakness history. Among those smart bettors who cashed in was longtime racing writer Clem Florio, who had seen Bee Bee Bee win one race by 15 lengths.
"I bet $100 on him, and I don't do that very often," Florio said. "I've bet that much maybe five times in my life. The trainer didn't like him, but he was winning by daylight.
"I predicted he was the best horse in the Preakness. He didn't run in the Belmont, though, and I don't know if he would have beaten the Riva Ridge that ran in the Belmont."