Horse Racing

History of Preakness Weekend at Pimlico Race Course

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
History of Preakness Weekend at Pimlico Race Course

The Preakness Stakes will be run for the 149th time on Saturday, May 18, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Traditionally the second of the three Triple Crown races, the Preakness happens on the third Saturday in May, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.

The 2024 edition of this historic horse race drew an exciting field of nine; though only eight are expected to run after the Wednesday-morning scratch of Muth, Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan continues his Triple Crown quest and faces some strong opposition.

However, the Preakness is only part of one of the most exciting weekends in horse racing. Pimlico Race Course hosts 15 stakes races over the course of the weekend, meaning horses in many divisions will be visiting Baltimore for Preakness weekend. The most iconic of these races is the George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), Friday’s featured race and one of the most important races of the three-year-old fillies’ season.

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Preakness Stakes History

The Preakness Stakes was first on the racing calendar in 1873, three years after Pimlico Race Course opened. Maryland governor Oden Bowie named the new three-year-old feature after the first-ever horse to win a stakes race at the track, Preakness. A horse named Survivor won the first Preakness Stakes by 10 lengths — still the second-longest Preakness-winning margin to this day.

In 1890, the Preakness was moved to Morris Park in New York. Not run from 1891 through 1893, the Preakness returned in 1894 at Gravesend, another track in New York. The race only returned to its Pimlico home in 1909, where Preakness trends such as playing Maryland’s state song and painting the winner’s colors atop the weather vane began. The traditional blanket of black-eyed Susans began about three decades later, when Bimelech won in 1940.

The Preakness has been run at Pimlico Race Course ever since 1909. Thirteen winners of the Preakness, from Sir Barton in 1919 through Justify in 2018, have gone on to sweep all of the other Triple Crown races. Others found the pinnacles of their horse racing careers in Maryland, while others have won the Preakness on their way to further glory as older horses.

The Preakness has been run at distances between a mile and 1 ½ miles throughout its history. However, it has held steady at its 1 3/16-mile distance for a century now. Though it may be the shortest of the three Triple Crown races, that trip is still a significant test of stamina, as it is a longer distance than most race horses ever go.

The Preakness is entrenched in the yearly routine at Pimlico Race Course, though a brief visit to another racetrack is imminent. With a complete renovation of the Pimlico grandstand happening over the next few years, the 2025 Preakness is expected to be run there despite construction, but the 2026 edition of the horse race is planned for Laurel Park. Plans call for the Preakness to return to its newly refreshed traditional home in 2027 and beyond.

Preakness Stakes Winners

These are some of the most important winners of the Preakness Stakes over the years.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winners

A total of 23 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but not the Belmont Stakes. These include some of the biggest stars of their eras, including Northern Dancer (1964), Spectacular Bid (1979), and Sunday Silence (1989). The list also includes some of the most beloved horses in racing history.

Only one horse has won the Preakness by a longer margin than the first-ever winner Survivor, and he was perhaps the most dearly beloved fan favorite in Preakness history. Smarty Jones was flying high into the 2004 Preakness Stakes after a 2 ¾-length win over Lion Heart in the Kentucky Derby. Off that victory, the public sent the undefeated Pennsylvania–bred off as an odds-on favorite in the ten-horse Preakness field. He put on a show in Baltimore. Once again stalking the pace set by Lion Heart, Smarty Jones took complete command in the lane and drew off to an 11 ½-length victory. Though he fell short next out when Birdstone overhauled him in the Belmont, his Preakness procession was a rousing final career victory for Smarty Jones.

It wasn’t only Pennsylvania’s favorite son who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness: New York’s and California’s did, too. Just a year before Smarty Jones’ bid, the New York-bred Funny Cide came to Baltimore in top form after a Kentucky Derby win, accompanied by his owners in the Sackatoga Stable school bus. Funny Cide was never far away as Scrimshaw and Peace Rules disputed the pace. Taking command for good into the final quarter, Funny Cide bounded away to win the 2003 Preakness by 9 ¾ lengths over Midway Road.

Eleven years later, fans rallied behind the colorful “Dumb-Ass Partners,” Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, as their homebred California Chrome came to Pimlico off of wins in the San Felipe (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1), and Kentucky Derby. The Chromies were flying high out of Baltimore, too, as California Chrome held by a resolute 1 ½ lengths over the rallying Ride On Curlin.

In 1958, a horse who may be more of an Australian fan favorite—despite being all-American—swept the first two Triple Crown races. Tim Tam set the track afire on the way to the Triple Crown series, winning the Everglades Stakes, Flamingo Stakes, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby en route to triumph in Louisville. Sent off at just over even money in the Preakness, Tim Tam settled kindly while Lincoln Road set the pace, reeled him in, and edged away to win by 1 ½ lengths. Though an injury in the Belmont led to a second-place finish and his retirement, Tim Tam not only lived on as a successful sire, but also as a sweet snack: six years later, Australian businessman Ross Arnott, who attended the race, decided that Tim Tam would be the perfect name for his new brand of chocolate cookies, which are still beloved today.

Preakness-Winning Stars

Some of the biggest stars in horse racing history won only one jewel of the Triple Crown, the middle one.

Perhaps the best-known example of this is Curlin, the winner of the 2007 Preakness. He was the buzz horse going into the Kentucky Derby, though inexperience caught up with him, and he had to settle for third behind Street Sense on Derby day. He pressed on to the Preakness two weeks later, and things worked out beautifully: despite stumbling early, the resplendent chestnut fought home to beat Street Sense by a head. Though he lost the duel of a lifetime against Rags to Riches in the Belmont, Curlin would go on to become a two-time Horse of the Year and the first North American horse to earn over $10 million on the track.

Two of the most popular race fillies of recent times are Preakness winners, as well. Just two years after Curlin won the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra followed up her 20 ¼-length Kentucky Oaks triumph with an attempt against males in the Preakness. She held by a length over Mine That Bird in Baltimore, and went on to topple males in the Haskell (G1) and Woodward (G1) later that year as well.

In 2020, even though Swiss Skydiver had to settle for second in the Kentucky Oaks behind Shedaresthedevil, trainer Kenny McPeek brought her to Baltimore to face boys in the Preakness, which that year was the final Triple Crown race due to COVID-related rescheduling. McPeek made the right call: Swiss Skydiver got a smart run inside of Kentucky Derby winner Authentic and dug in to win the race by a neck.

Not all of these star Preakness winners were recent, however. Bold Ruler, winner of the 1957 Preakness, was part of a vintage crop of thoroughbreds that included Hall of Famers Gallant Man and Round Table. Winner of the Bahama Handicap and the Wood Memorial, Bold Ruler finished only fourth in the Kentucky Derby. However, a tongue tie had Bold Ruler feeling better on Preakness day, and he won in frontrunning fashion. He faltered to third in the Belmont, but shined against older horses later in the year and then sewed up Horse of the Year honors when beating both Gallant Man and Round Table in the Trendon Handicap. He went on to be the champion sprinter the next year, as well, and went on to sire such greats as Gamely, Bold Lad … and, of course, Secretariat.

Black-Eyed Susan Stakes History

The Preakness Stakes is not the only major three-year-old horse race at Pimlico, and not the only one deep in tradition. The George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), which takes its name from Maryland’s state flower, is one of the premier races for sophomore dirt route fillies in the country. The race is traditionally contested the day before the Preakness, and it perennially draws a mix of Oaks horses, runners from the Oaks trail, and up-and-comers who are trying to prove themselves against the best fillies in their class.

The Black-Eyed Susan was first run as the Pimlico Oaks in 1919. Its name was changed to the Black-Eyed Susan in 1952, as a nod to the official state flower. It has always been run on the dirt at Pimlico, though its distance has varied between 1 1/16 miles and 1 ⅛ miles throughout its history. The race currently covers 1 ⅛ miles, its consistent distance since 1989.

In 2020, the race was officially renamed the George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Mitchell, who passed away in the summer of 2020, was a longtime community leader in Park Heights, the Baltimore neighborhood where Pimlico Race Course is located.

Black-Eyed Susan Winners

When talking about Black-Eyed Susan winners, it starts with Nellie Morse. She wasn’t quite the first winner—she won the sixth edition of the race in 1924. However, she completed a feat no filly has accomplished before or since: she won both this race (then called the Pimlico Oaks) and the Preakness. In fact, her win in the Preakness was her third win in nine days. Though she would never win again after the Preakness, she was important in the breeding shed as well: she produced Nellie Flag, a champion juvenile in her own right, as well as a foundation mare at Calumet.

For 1995 winner Serena’s Song, the Black-Eyed Susan was a place to bounce back. She was part of a favored entry in the Kentucky Derby after wins in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) against fillies and the Jim Beam (G2) against colts, but crossed the wire sixteenth. D. Wayne Lukas sent her right back out for the Black-Eyed Susan two weeks later, and she won by nine lengths in hand. She would win the Mother Goose (G1) in her next start, and later in the summer, she had her day against the boys, holding by ¾ length over Pyramid Peak to win the Haskell (G1).

Serena’s Song was one of eight Black-Eyed Susan winners who have gone on to champion three-year-old filly honors. The most recent of those was Royal Delta, who did so in 2011. Racing for just the fourth time in Pimlico’s filly feature, she won by 2 ½ lengths. Royal Delta went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) that year and the following year, two of her six career Grade 1 wins.

Another top recent Black-Eyed Susan winner was Stopchargingmaria, who battled home to win by a neck over Vero Amore in 2014. She would go on to win the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and the Alabama (G1) in her next two starts. At age four, she went on to win three graded stakes, including the Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3) at Pimlico and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) to end the year.

Filly Triple Crown

Though there is no official Triple Crown for fillies, there have been unofficial filly Triple Crown sequences. The most traditional is the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and the Coaching Club American Oaks, though some consider the Acorn a logical third since it is the fillies’ race run on Belmont Stakes weekend.

The undisputed queen of the top filly races is Davona Dale, now a Kentucky Oaks points race namesake at Gulfstream. In 1979 she won the Kentucky Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan, and all three New York races that are considered part of New York’s Triple Tiara for fillies: the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks. This makes her the only filly in history to win both the informal filly Triple Crown as well as New York’s Triple Tiara sequence.

Other horses to sweep the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and the Coaching Club American Oaks include Wistful in 1949 and Real Delight in 1952. In 1956, Princess Turia swept the version that includes the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and Acorn.

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