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The Preakness Stakes is one of the most storied and famous Thoroughbred races in the United States. Since its inception in 1873, it has commanded respect as one of the premier races for 3-year-olds and is the most notable race in all of Maryland. 

The race currently is run at a distance of 1 3/16 miles on the dirt at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.  It is the second race in the Triple Crown series and has a purse of $1,000,000.  

There have been several bumps and changes throughout its historic career, which only add to the glamour of this great race.

To understand the history of the Preakness one must first look back to the inception of its host track, Pimlico Race Course. To say that the idea for the creation of Pimlico was unique would be an understatement. 

It is the second oldest racetrack still in operation in the entire United States just behind Saratoga Race Course in New York. Back in 1868, Maryland’s then Governor, Oden Bowie, was at a dinner party with some of his prominent racing friends in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when a friendly wager was agreed upon. 

Bowie and his friends agreed to race some of their yearlings in two years time to honor the dinner that evening. The agreed terms of the bet were that the winner had to host the losing owners to another dinner. Pretty simple terms but they ended up having a big impact on the sport of Thoroughbred racing as we know it. 

Several different venues bid to be host of the historic race but eventually Bowie won out when he agreed to build a racetrack in Baltimore and host the event there. Thus, the idea for a racetrack in Baltimore was born and on October 25, 1870, the new Pimlico Race Track opened its doors to the public and has been there ever since. 

The Dinner Party Stakes was run on opening day of Pimlico and won by a horse named Preakness. This was the race that Bowie and his friends had agreed upon several years earlier at that dinner in Saratoga Springs. 

It was decided that they would name a stakes race in honor of Preakness winning the first Dinner Party Stakes and on May 27, 1873, the first edition of the Preakness Stakes was held. 


Preakness -stakes -horse

Courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club

The race only drew seven starters for its inauguration and was won impressively by John Chamberlain’s horse Survivor. Survivor ran a huge race that day, winning by 10 lengths and collecting the $2,050 purse. This margin of victory stood as the largest until Smarty Jones romped home in 2004 to win by 11 ½ lengths, a record that still stands.

The Preakness continued to be run at Pimlico for 16 years up until 1890.  For just one year, 1890, the Preakness was run at Morris Park Racecourse in the Bronx, N.Y.  After this running, the Preakness was not run for three consecutive years. 

After the brief hiatus, the Preakness was contested again at Gravesend Racetrack in Coney Island, N.Y., and it stayed there for 15 straight years. 

In 1909, the Preakness Stakes returned to its birthplace at Pimlico in Baltimore and has been run there ever since. 

There are many great traditions that surround the Preakness Stakes but one of the most important is that of its trophy, the Woodlawn Vase.  It was made in 1860 by Tiffany and Co. for the Woodlawn Racing Association but is now presented each year to the winning owner of the Preakness Stakes. 

Previously, the winning owner would keep the trophy for a year until the next running of the Preakness. This practice was abandoned in 1953 and now the winning owner is given a $30,000 sterling silver replica of the trophy to keep. 

The original Woodlawn Vase was appraised in 1983 to have a value of $1 million dollars and is kept in the Baltimore Museum of Art. It is taken out of the museum annually for the running of the Preakness and is presented to the winning owner.   The trophy is made of sterling silver and measures 34-inches tall, weighing in at an astounding 29 pounds, 12 ounces. 


Chip -Preak Trophy

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

A fun fact about the trophy is that during the Civil War it was buried to prevent anyone from discovering it and melting it down into shot or sold.  At the end of the war, it was promptly unearthed when racing started again. 

Another Preakness tradition is to place a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans across the winning horse since they are the state flower of Maryland.  This has led to the nickname of the Preakness being “the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.”


Chip Blog -Black Eyed Susan

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

The funny thing about the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans, though, is that these flowers have never actually been used for the blanket. The Preakness is run on the third Saturday of May annually and this is too early for Black-Eyed Susans to be in season. To fix this problem, Pimlico makes the blanket out of Viking Daisies and paints the center of them black to resemble the Black-Eyed Susan.    

Also occurring on the day of the Preakness is the painting of the weathervane. When the winner of the Preakness is declared official, a painter climbs to the top of the old clubhouse replica and paints the winning owner’s silks onto the jockey and horse weathervane. 


Preak Weathervane Far

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

These colors remain there until the Preakness is run the following year and a new winner is declared. This tradition has occurred since 1909 when the weathervane was attached.        


Chip Blog -Weathervaneclose

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

The Preakness truly is one of our nation’s most historic races for Thoroughbreds. 

It has endured wars, site changes, epic fires, and the Great Depression, but year in and year out it continues to be run. 

Any horse that wins this race will forever be known as a champion and will have their name placed amongst a list of greats that include the immortals Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and countless others. 

Half a century ago, Alfred Vanderbilt made a statement that still holds true today in defining the symbolism and historic nature of this great racetrack, “Pimlico is more than a dirt track bound by four streets. It is an accepted American institution, devoted to the best interests of a great sport, graced by time, respected for its honorable past.”


Go behind the scenes at the 2012 Preakness Stakes with winning trainer Doug O'Neill as Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another caught Bodemeister in the stretch

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Chip McGaughey

Born and raised in the Thoroughbred horse industry, Chip has an impressive knowledge of all aspects of the racing world—from the backside to handicapping. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and has marketing experience as well.

Image Description

Chip McGaughey

Born and raised in the Thoroughbred horse industry, Chip has an impressive knowledge of all aspects of the racing world—from the backside to handicapping. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and has marketing experience as well.

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