The History of the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes (G1), the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, is run on the dirt at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The race distance is one and three-sixteenth miles long, slightly shorter than the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby (G1). Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57kg) and fillies 121 pounds (55kg) as they race for the Woodlawn Vase.

Limited to 14 runners and with an average field size of nine, the Preakness is an intriguing wagering challenge. It almost always features the Kentucky Derby winner, seeking to earn a chance at the Triple Crown, running against other Derby runners and a collection of new horses. These fresh horses typically have more than the two weeks of rest which Derby runners face.

First run in 1873, the Preakness Stakes was for a time staged in Gravesend, New York, and it was run at different times of the year. It was staged 11 times before the Kentucky Derby, and twice on the same day, before settling on its current position two weeks after the Derby in 1932. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the term “Triple Crown” to describe the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes came into common usage.

The most celebrated winners are the 12 Triple Crown winners: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), and American Pharoah (2015). They produced some of great memories, such as total dominance by Count Fleet and Citation, and Secretariat’s amazing last-to-first move within 300 yards around the first turn.

But numerous other Preakness victories deserve to be remembered. Man o’War, one of the all-time greats, missed the Derby but won the 1920 Preakness easily on his seasonal debut. Native Dancer put his Derby defeat behind him to win the 1953 Preakness, as did another of the greats, 1967 winner Damascus, while few editions were more memorable than 1989, when Sunday Silence narrowly beat Easy Goer.

In more recent years, Smarty Jones scored a record-margin 11 1/2 length victory in 2004. Afleet Alex won in 2005 after nearly being knocked over on the final turn, while Rachel Alexandra became the fifth filly to win when she held off Derby winner Mine That Bird in 2009.

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