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Maryland Jockey Club will not play ‘Maryland, My Maryland' before Oct. 3 Preakness

In a year of change for the Preakness Stakes, the Maryland Jockey Club has reiterated that it will not play the pro-secessionist state song “Maryland, My Maryland” before its biggest event on Oct. 3.

The Jockey Club announced it would “start a new tradition for Preakness 145” in a June 25 statement expressing support for Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones' call to change the state song.

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Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, has described “Maryland, My Maryland” as “extremely offensive.”

Jockey Club spokesman Dave Joseph confirmed plans to remove the song but offered no further comment.

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Since the Jockey Club made its initial statement, anti-racism protests have swept American sports, with the NBA briefly suspending its playoffs, the Orioles and other Major League Baseball teams declining to play games and the Ravens releasing a statement calling for seven specific measures to enhance social justice.

In Louisville, Churchill Downs officials faced calls to end the playing of the state song “My Old Kentucky Home” before the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby. They opted to have a bugler play the tune, preceded by a moment of silence, in lieu of the traditional sing-along.

The tradition of playing “Maryland, My Maryland” at the Preakness dates back to 1909, three decades before it became the state song.

Elected leaders and activists have long decried the Civil War-era ballad as a representation of the state’s racist past.

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“Maryland, My Maryland” is set to the tune that most people know as “O Christmas Tree.” It features lyrics drawn from an 1861 poem by James Ryder Randall, who was distraught about a friend who was shot during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore en route to Washington.

The poem’s opening line is “The despot’s heel is on thy shore,” a reference to President Abraham Lincoln. Randall encourages Marylanders to “avenge the patriotic gore/that flecked the streets of Baltimore.”

State Senate President Bill Ferguson has said he supports Jones' effort to do away with the song, and a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said he will “carefully review” the issue if the legislature sends a bill his way.

The absence of “Maryland, My Maryland” will be one of many differences at the Preakness this year. The coronavirus pandemic pushed the race from its usual date on the third Saturday in May, and the Jockey Club recently announced no spectators will be allowed at Pimlico Race Course. In another change to tradition, the Preakness will be the third leg of the Triple Crown series instead of the second.

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