HISTORY OF THE PREAKNESS STAKES
The Preakness is a $1,000,000 Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds
run at a distance of 1 3/8 miles on Pimlico’s dirt course. It is the second leg in America’s Triple
Curiously, Saratoga Springs played a minor part in the naming
of the Preakness. One night in August of
1866 Maryland horse owner Milton Sanford (no relation to the famous Sanfords of
Amsterdam, New York and Hurricana Farm) convened a dinner party at the Union
Hall Hotel in Saratoga. Among the
attendees was Maryland Governor and horseman Oden Bowie, who chose the dinner
party as the occasion to announce that he was building a new track in
Baltimore, later to be called Pimlico.
To launch the new track in grand style, he proposed a new stakes race
with the astonishing (at that time) value of $15,000. That new stakes was named the Dinner Party
Stakes in honor of that gathering in Saratoga.
The winner of that inaugural race in 1867 was Sanford’s unraced long
shot named Preakness, who would become Maryland’s favorite horse. When Governor Bowie began a new stakes race
in 1873 restricted to 3-year-olds, he named the race in honor of Sanford’s
Although the 2012 renewal is called the 137th
Preakness, that number only happened after a curious decision of the Maryland
Jockey Club. For a short history of that
decision, see my accompanying “The Case of the Missing Preaknesses”.
The Preakness can boast of thirty winners who have been
inducted into the Hall of Fame. However,
there is a long gap between Duke of Magenta, the 1878 winner, and Sir
Barton, the 1919 winner and first winner, albeit retrospectively, of the
Triple Crown, when no winner was a Hall of Fame inductee. That period roughly compares to the faux
Preaknesses that were held after Pimlico shut down.
Allan Carter, Historian
National Museum of Racing