Time machine: Why the 2019 Preakness is like 1951

May 12, 2019 Vance Hanson/Brisnet.com

When the $1.5 million Preakness (G1) is run at Pimlico on May 18, it will be unlike any edition of the race seen in generations.

With Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Country House sidelined by illness, Derby runner-up Code of Honor awaiting the Dwyer Stakes (G3) in July, and third-place finisher Tacitus pointing for the Belmont Stakes (G1) in June, the Preakness will not include any of the Kentucky Derby's official top three finishers for the first time since 1951.

Even before their plans were announced, Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first to 17th in last week's Run for the Roses, had already passed on a trip to Baltimore from his Monmouth Park base.

The 1951 Kentucky Derby was dominated by longshots. Count Turf, a son of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, won by a convincing four lengths despite having gone unplaced in seven consecutive starts leading up to the Derby. Lumped in with four other outsiders in a mutuel field, Count Turf paid an underlaid $31.20 to win.

Royal Mustang, who finished second, had run 36 times prior to the Derby and had never won a stakes. He was sent off at odds of 53-1 after losing his final prep, the Blue Grass at Keeneland, by a neck.

Ruhe, who had previously won the Arkansas Derby and was awarded the victory in the Blue Grass via disqualification, started at odds of 10-1 in the Derby, but could do no better than third.

Besides possessing form that, in the round, wasn't much to get excited about, what else might explain these three horses' absence from Pimlico two weeks later?

The simple explanation is that none of the three had been nominated to the Preakness and were thus ineligible to run. Unlike today, when one process ensures nomination to all three of the Triple Crown events, each race had their own nominating procedures in 1951. It would take more than three decades for that to change.

At least in one aspect, a different nominating procedure was necessary. The Belmont Stakes at the time continued to bar geldings from participating, thus a horse like Ruhe was ineligible to compete in the 'Test of the Champion.'

In the immediate aftermath of the Kentucky Derby, when it was obvious none of the top three, nor fourth-place finisher Phil D., were eligible to compete in the Preakness, the Maryland Jockey Club proposed the creation of a $50,000 invitational, the 'Jubilee,' where the top four finishers in the Derby would face the top four finishers in the Preakness over 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico on May 26, exactly one week after the Preakness.

However, the proposed race never got off the ground. While the connections of a couple Derby top four finishers were inclined to point elsewhere, the major defector was Count Turf himself. Coincidentally, the reasons were similar to that of Country House today.

'Count Turf has been running a fever and coughing ever since his return (to New York) from Churchill Downs,' Maryland Jockey Club president Gen. Milton R. Reckord told Daily Racing Form early Preakness week. 'He has not been out of his stall for four days.'

The Preakness ultimately attracted a field of eight, five of which were Kentucky Derby also-rans. However, the runaway winner, by seven lengths, was Bold, trained by Hall of Famer Preston Burch and ridden by the great Eddie Arcaro. Finishing second was 25-1 longshot Counterpoint, who had run 11th in the Derby.

Count Turf and the erratic Bold would eventually meet at Belmont Park in early June, in a 1 1/16-mile allowance prep for the Belmont Stakes. Count Turf won by a neck over Combat Boots, with 2-5 favorite Bold last of three after bearing out approaching the far turn when loose on the lead.

While Bold later won the Saranac Handicap after skipping the Belmont, Count Turf would finish a distant seventh in the third leg of the Triple Crown and didn't win another stakes until 1953.

The winner of the Belmont, by four lengths, was Counterpoint. Like Count Turf a son of Count Fleet, Counterpoint eventually proved the best three-year-old of the crop, winning the Peter Pan, Lawrence Realization, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Gold Cup, and Empire City Handicap in addition to the Belmont.

Counterpoint was voted 1951 Horse of the Year, a terrific finish to the season after finishing up the track in a Kentucky Derby that produced a largely inexplicable result.

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