Tradition! It Really Got a Late Start for Preakness
by Greg Melikov - 05/06/2009
The Preakness is two years older than the Kentucky Derby, but traditions didn't really take hold until more than three decades later.
That's because the middle jewel of the Triple Crown endured a bumpy road to survive in those early days since Maryland Gov. Oden Bowen and several friends, all prominent racing figures, met at Saratoga in 1868.
They discussed business during a dinner party at America's oldest track and agreed to build a model track if a big race could be staged in two years.
It was - at Pimlico. The contest was the Dinner Party Stakes for three-year-olds of both genders. In 1873, a new headline race was staged for sophomore colts and geldings honoring the inaugural Dinner Stakes winner - Preakness.
Seven horses went to the post on May 27 before a crowd of 12,000. The distance was 1 ½ miles. The winner was appropriately named Survivor.
That's after prospering for 17 years, Pimlico closed in 1890 and the race was shifted to Morris Park in New York. Then the Preakness was moved to Gravesend in Brooklyn for 15 years until the track closed.
The race returned to Pimlico for good in 1909 when several of today's traditions got their start and stuck.
For example, the music rendition of "Maryland, My Maryland" is attributed to a bugler that began playing and was joined by the entire band that was enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd. It was written as a poem in 1861 and adopted as the state song in 1939.
That same year an ornamental ironworker was hired to forge a weather vane in the form of a horse and rider that was painted the colors of the silks for the winning Effendi.
The Preakness was staged 11 times before the Derby and 11 times prior to the Belmont. Twice it was run on the same day as the Derby, 1917 and 1922, and once on the same day as the Belmont, 1890.
The Preakness has been held every day except Sunday: Monday, six times, Tuesday, 14; Wednesday, five; Thursday, four; Friday, 13; and Saturday, ever since 1931 when the current order of the Triple Crown races began.
The largest on-track crowd was in 2007 when 121,263 saw Curlin defeat Derby champ Street Sense by a head, equaling the track record of 1:53 2/5 for the 1 3/16 miles.
Many a black-eyed susan, the flower (sorta), has been draped across the shoulders of winners since 1940 when Bimelech triumphed. That was 22 years after being declared the state flower, which features Maryland's official black-and-yellow colors.
But since the black-eyed susan doesn't bloom in Maryland until June, another flower is substituted. More than 80 bunches of Viking daisies are strung together on a green base and the centers are daubed with black lacquer to recreate the correct appearance on an 18-by-90-inch blanket.
Black-eyed susan, the drink, was developed for a special Preakness commemorative glass created in the early 1970s, but the main ingredients have changed through the years. During that decade vodka, rum and triple sec shared equal billing.
But the souvenir glasses became so popular that the drink could no longer be mixed one by one, bartender style. In the 1980s, peach schnapps replaced triple sec. The 1990s saw bourbon replacing all other hard liquor.
By the way, the official state drink doesn't have much of a kick - it's milk.