Sunday, May 15, 2011

Preakness Stakes - Stuck in the Middle

Middle children long ignored and much maligned have a way of seeking and finding attention. While the Preakness Stakes holds none of the initial glory of its Kentucky Derby brother or the lonely wisdom of its long-toothed kin, the Belmont Stakes, it has confirmed greatness, toppled Triple Crown hopes and played host to a circus line of oddities... and that's just in the last 30 years or so.

Man-handled fillies:
  •  Jockey Angel Cordero on his mount, Codex, pushes filly and Derby champ, Genuine Risk, from the two path, floating her out into the middle of the track while turning for home. A bit of daring, rodeo-race riding, it bordered on or was believed by many to be a racing foul - one  Pimlico stewards refused to issue. After an objection by Genuine Risk's jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, who also claimed Cordero reached out and hit his filly with the whip, Codex's first place finish stood and his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas stopped reading the hate mail after a while because it all sounded the same.
  • Just eight years later, another female Derby winner, Winning Colors, encountered a similar fate that started just after the Preakness gates opened. Pat Day aboard, Forty Niner, the Derby runner up, purposely forces Gary Stevens and Winning Colors, breaking just to his outside, into the four-path all the way around the course. The two race shoulder-to-shoulder into the top of the stretch. Day's move backfires as Risen Star moves through the hole along the rail, big enough for an 18-wheeler, and wins going away. Winning Colors fades to third and Forty Niner backs up in the stretch. And from The Reaping What You Sow Department: D. Wayne Lucas falls on the opposite side of the sword as his filly is the victim of rough race riding. Lucas takes solace in watching Forty Niner suffer in the lane.
To His Knees:
  • Two weeks after finishing a disappointing third in the Derby, Afleet Alex clips heels with long shot Scrappy T turning for home. Atop  Afleet Alex, jock Jeremy Rose expects to crash into the Pimlico dirt, but instead rebounds quickly for an easy win at odds-on.

  • A drunk spectator runs out onto the track while horses turn for home during a Preakness undercard race, the Maryland Breeder's Cup. The fan allegedly came out to swing and hit 4-5 favorite, Artax and his jockey Jorge Chavez. The man, horses and jocks all miraculously avoided injury and the man was later arrested on a multitude of charges, one of which should have been: Just Plain Stupid.
Roberto Borea / Ap

  • Very little explanation here and in what probably was one of the greatest attractors of fans to horse racing, sans winning or even running of a race. Barbaro united many with his injury, which occurred shortly after breaking through the Pimlico gates moments before the start of the Preakness. The weeks that followed and the courageous battle to save Barbaro's life garnered letters, attention and the whole horse racing community to stop and hope that a great horse's life could be saved against all odds.
The Race:
  • For my money, the best race Triple Crown race I ever saw was the 1989 rendition of the Preakness. In a much ballyhooed preview of that year's Triple Crown series, ABC Sports made a big deal of an East vs. West rivalry between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. Following Sunday Silence's easy Derby win over Easy Goer, the hype surrounding the Preakness came to a fever pitch as Easy Goer was made the favorite despite his loss two weeks prior. During the running, as the horses approached the far turn, Easy Goer's jockey, Pat Day, squeezed rider Patrick Valenzula aboard Sunday Silence in an early move going for home and in hopes of knocking Sunday Silence off stride. (Later Valenzuela would say, "Pat tried to screw me all the way around the track.") After quickly getting back into stride, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer hooked up for the last quarter of a mile, running stride-for-stride the entire length of the stretch. Day was trapped on the inside and Valenzuela made him pay, beating him by an emphatic head. Dave Johson's call was spot on. 

The Lady is Finally a Preakness Champ:
  • At least she was the first female this century and the second filly to ever win the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra, who quite frankly could have taken the 135th Derby, if she were entered, wins the Preakness in style. In doing so, Calvin Borel, does the unthinkable - gets off the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to ride Rachel Alexandra. Not sure we'll ever see such a jockey jump again. 

Waiting on a Triple Crown:
  • Since Affirmed, 12 horses have been anointed with the mantle of taking the first two jewels of Triple Crown before falling three weeks later at Belmont Park. Most of those 12 victories were by open lengths and were precursors to what many fans and bettors thought for sure would be the next Triple Crown winner.
And so we wait, knowing this middle child of a race has the power to produce something as equally dramatic as its Derby predecessor, as confirming as Belmont's test of a champion or just another strange oddity come the Third Saturday in May. For once I will be there, hopefully blogging to you a taste of what the Preakness Stakes is all about, up close and personal.


  1. I really enjoyed the post..... Thks~~

  2. Michael,

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked it. I'll be trying to blog from the Preakness on Saturday...

    Bada Bing

  3. Great, great post! I am also in on the '89 Preakness but the '89 BC Classic is also right up there w/ the '78 Belmont and '78 Preakness.

    Thoughts on the winner? For me: SWAY AWAY - AK - FLASHPOINT and am giving Power Cap's ASTROLOGY a look.

    Good luck this weekend!

  4. Rob,

    The Derby boys of Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man and Dialed In along with Astrology. The pace is probably going to be much faster, which I think benefits AK and Dialed In. Mucho Macho Man is still developing and could be a monster as a late foal continuing to mature throughout the summer.

  5. A great series of videos in this post. As for the Codex-Genuine Risk incident, this is quite common in race-riding today. There would be no change in the order of finish 9 times out of 10.

    Cordero had a ton of horse in the lane he didn't have to try to gain an advantage by drifting Codex outwards and stopping the momentum of Genuine Risk.