The Preakness Stakes has maintained its status as one of the preeminent horse
races in the entire sport through many ups and downs in its history, which now
spans over 140 years. Held in May each year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore,
Maryland, the Preakness annually stands behind only the Kentucky Derby in terms
of most-attended races in America. Part of the lure is that the race is included
as the middle gem in horse racing’s Triple Crown.
What that means is that all eyes are on the Preakness to see if the winner of
the Kentucky Derby, which is held two weeks before it, can come back and win
again to get the first two legs of the Triple Crown. When that happens,
attention becomes intense on the Belmont Stakes, the final race in the trio.
There have been thirteen occasions when the Derby winner followed it up with a
win in the Preakness and then sealed the deal with a victory in the Belmont,
with Justify managing the feat in 2018.
Over the years, the Preakness has been interrupted on a few occasions and
even left the state of Maryland on several occasions. In recent years, the
monetary struggles of Pimlico and Maryland Thoroughbred racing in general have
cast doubts on whether the race can continue indefinitely in its current
location. Yet each year, the thousands that gather at the track for the
Preakness are treated to a party atmosphere and usually get to enjoy a
thrilling, important race.
The History of the Preakness Stakes
The Preakness Stakes actually predates the Kentucky Derby by a few years,
making it the oldest of the three Triple Crown races. It was first contested in
1873 and was named after a horse that had won at Pimlico three years before.
Survivor won the first-ever running in a romp.
The race started to bounce around a few decades later. It was held in 1890 in
at a race track in the Bronx, NY, and then wasn’t held at all for three years
after that. Its home for the years from 1894 to 1908 was a track on Coney Island
in New York named Gravesend Race Track.
Despite all of the comings and goings, the track still held its allure for
the top three-year-olds in the country thanks to its solid purse structure. When
the race returned to Pimlico in 1909, it quickly started to settle in as a major
cultural event in the Baltimore area.
What really cinched Pimlico as a horse race of undeniable stature was when
the concept of the Triple Crown first came into the public consciousness. Even
though a horse named Sir Barton won all three races in 1919, the public didn’t
really recognize the significance of the feat. That would finally come in the
1930s when a pair of horses managed to win all three races and the term “Triple
Crown” was first used by sportscasters to describe the accomplishment.
Characteristics of the Preakness
The Preakness Stakes might be one of the three races included in the Triple
Crown, but it stands apart from the other two for a number of reasons. One of
those is the date on which it is held. Although the date often changed in its
early years, the Preakness has been held throughout the modern era on the third
Saturday in May.
That puts it two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, which means that
three-year-olds wanting to compete in both races will have to tighten their
schedule much more than usual. Thoroughbreds in the modern age often go a month
or more between races. To compete in both the Derby and the Preakness, horses
have to manage the long distance of the Derby and come right back and race two
For that reason, some of the horses who compete at Churchill Downs in the
Derby and don’t finish well don’t come back for the Preakness. As a result, the
Preakness draws much smaller fields, and the results are much closer to form.
There have been far fewer long-shot winners in the Preakness than in either of
the other two Triple Crown races.
Another unique factor attached to the Preakness is the distance. Since 1925,
horses have had to traverse 1 3/16 miles to win the race. That is the shortest
distance of the three races in the Triple Crown. The Derby is 1 ¼ miles, while
the Belmont comes in at 1 ½ miles.
The differing distances and the short period of time between races (the
Belmont is just three weeks after the Preakness) are part of what makes winning
the Triple Crown so difficult. As far as the distance for the Preakness Stakes,
the race sets up better for horses who live to leave the gate quickly and hustle
to the front end. Closers often find that they aren’t able to run down the
leaders in time with the shorter distance.
Great Preakness Champions
As might be expected, the 13 Triple Crown winners stand tall among those who
have won the Preakness in the memories of racing fans. And among those, none was as memorable as Secretariat. The
famous colt managed to win the Preakness in 1973 in a record time for the race
at the 1 3/16-mile distance, tripping the timer in 1 minute and 53 seconds.
Several of the other Triple Crown winners have made lasting impressions on
the third Saturday in May at Pimlico. The 1940s were a heyday for those standout
horses, with four Triple Crown champs coming up big in the Preakness. In more
recent times, American Pharoah dominated the Preakness in 2015 on his way to
becoming the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.
But there have also been legendary horses who did not win the Triple Crown
and still were heroes to the Pimlico faithful for their efforts in the
Preakness. Perhaps the most monumental of those was Man o’ War. As part of a
career in which he lost only once in 21 career races, Man o’ War captured the
1920 Preakness Stakes. He did not have the chance to win the Triple Crown
because his handlers decided not to enter him in the Kentucky Derby.
In 1955, Nashua lost to Swaps in the Kentucky Derby, but then won the
Preakness in a time that stood as the race record for 16 years; he would go on
to beat Swaps in a famous match race. Spectacular Bid had bad luck on and off
the track that cost him a chance at the Triple Crown in the 1979 Belmont Stakes.
But he was brilliant in the Preakness, dominating the field for a romping
In recent years, Smarty Jones overwhelmed the Preakness Stakes competition in
2004 by 11 ½ lengths, the widest margin in race history. And in 2009, Rachel
Alexandra became the fifth filly in history to beat the boys and win the race.
Also won the Kentucky Derby but came up short in Belmont
Would go on to finally end the long Triple Crown drought
In addition to Kent Desormeaux riding, the horse was trained by
his brother, J. Keith Desormeaux
Won the Preakness despite only having three previous races
under his belt
Trainer Bob Baffert tied a record with his seventh victory
As might be expected for a race that has been around for so long, there are
many traditions attached to the Preakness Stakes. Many have been in existence
for nearly as long as the race has been run. Chief among these is the fact that
a garland of black-eyed Susans is typically laid across the winner at the end of
The Black-Eyed Susan, a vodka and gin concoction, is also the official drink
of the Preakness Stakes. Prior to the race, the crowd sings along to a marching
band’s rendition of “Maryland, My Maryland” in honor of the location. The winner
is also awarded the Woodlawn Vase as the trophy, while the painting of a famed
weather vane on top of the clubhouse with the winning colors is also part of the
Speaking of festivities, the Preakness also cultivates more of a party vibe
than some of the other big horse races on the yearly schedule. In particular,
the general admission spots in the infield draw a crowd looking to enjoy
themselves in any manner possible. In the last decade or so, Pimlico has made an
effort to turn the infield activities into an event on its own by inviting top
musicians to perform leading up to the race.
How to Bet on the Preakness Stakes
If you happen to live near the Baltimore area, you can perhaps visit the
track and make a wager on the race in person. Short of that, you can also find a
simulcast area that will oblige. These areas allow for remote betting on horse
racing events and can generally be found either at your local track or an
off-track wagering facility.
In addition, modern horse racing fans also have the luxury of betting on all
races through websites that cater to their needs. Many of these sites are
associated specifically with the Preakness, including TwinSpires.com, also the
main site for Kentucky Derby wagering.
When you go to wager online for the Preakness Stakes or any other race, it is
always a good idea to make sure the site that you choose is just right for you.
You should make sure that the site is easily navigated and that you can withdraw
from or add to your account with ease. It might also be wise to ensure that the gambling site
in question has some sort of official affiliation with or stamp of approval from
the horse racing industry.
As far as strategies for betting the Preakness Stakes, it is important to
remember the characteristics of the race that were mentioned above. You should
be looking for horses that are well-suited to the distance. That usually means
that they like to flash early speed and can carry that speed all the way to the
You also have to decide which horses are able to come back from the Derby
strong after just two weeks off. The Triple Crown is so difficult to complete
because it’s a lot to ask of a horse to win three races in a five-week span at
demanding distances and against top competition. If you think a horse had a
particularly grueling journey in the Derby just two weeks earlier, it might be a
good idea to throw them out of your considerations for the Preakness.
In recent years, there have been many horses who, for whatever reason, decide
to skip the Kentucky Derby, even though they might have the qualifications to
compete. These horses might then be ready for the Preakness, meaning that they
would come in much fresher to face the Derby horses. If you can spot one of
these horses, you might be able to get a value play to include in your straight
(win, place, show) or exotic (exacta, trifecta, superfecta, Daily Double)
Preakness Stakes Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the most successful jockeys in Preakness Stakes history?
The legendary Eddie Arcaro won the race six times in a span of just 17 years
in the 1940s and 1950s to lead all jockeys in Preakness history. More recently,
Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux, and Victor Espinoza have won it three times each
since 1997. Pat Day is the only jockey in history to win the race three years in
a row, a feat he accomplished from 1994 to 1996.
Who are the most successful trainers in Preakness Stakes history?
R. Wyndham Walden won the Preakness as a trainer seven times in the 19th
century, a feat that many people thought would never be equaled. But Bob Baffert
has managed to do just that. Starting with his first Preakness win in 1997 and
running through his victory with Justify in 2018, Baffert now has won the race
seven times as well. Considering that he is still at the top of the profession,
it wouldn’t be surprising if he broke the record in the coming years.
What race is the distaff counterpart to the Preakness Stakes?
The Black-Eyed Susan is a race held at Pimlico exclusively for three-year-old
fillies on the day before the Preakness Stakes. It is part of the Filly Triple
Who is the longest shot to ever win the Preakness Stakes?
Master Derby, winner of the 1975 race, went off at odds of 23-1. He paid $48
for a $2 winning ticket.
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