While it might be Baltimore’s biggest day every year, the Preakness is in some ways the redheaded stepchild of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby has the majesty of Churchill Downs’ twin spires, the awe-inspiring hats of the Southern belles and the mint juleps and the exciting first look at that year’s crop of top 3-year-old thoroughbreds.
The Belmont has the best song, “Sidewalks of New York,” and a more elegant setting than Pimlico, home of the Preakness and the rowdy infield. More important, if a horse has won the first two races as has happened in 11 of the 32 springs since Affirmed last won all three legs, the Belmont has the feverish hope that this might finally be the year that we have a Triple Crown winner again.
Among those 11 near-legends were such fan favorites as: Spectacular Bid (1979); Alysheba (1987); Sunday Silence (1989); Funny Cide (2003); Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008).
In contrast, only Swale (1984) and Thunder Gulch (1995) have won the Derby and Belmont but lost the Preakness since Affirmed’s trifecta.
Which brings us to tomorrow’s race. Surprise Derby winner Animal Kingdom heads a 14-horse field that includes Derby favorite Dialed In (son of 2002 Horse of the Year Mineshaft), third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford, which led most of the way before settling for fourth.
There’s also plenty of blue blood in the field with the sons of Smarty Jones (Concealed Identity), 2005 Preakness winner Afleet Alex (Sway Away), 1998 Preakness winner Real Quiet (Norman Abjornson) and 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy (Astrology).
Astrology (seven races), Animal Kingdom (five) and Dance City (four) have yet to finish out of the money while Mucho Macho Man has done so just once in nine starts. All told, the 14 horses have left the gate 86 times and have come home first, second or third 57 times.
So, the field looks impressive, the weather is supposed to be picture-perfect and yet the Preakness remains, as always, the middle child of the Triple Crown whose biggest thrill is sending a Derby champion off to the Belmont with a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans and the latest shot at horse racing’s ultimate glory.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.