A Guide to the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes has maintained its status as one of the preeminent horse races in the entire sport through many ups and downs in its history, which now spans over 140 years. Held in May each year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, the Preakness annually stands behind only the Kentucky Derby in terms of most-attended races in America. Part of the lure is that the race is included as the middle gem in horse racing's Triple Crown.

What that means is that all eyes are on the Preakness to see if the winner of the Kentucky Derby, which is held two weeks before it, can come back and win again to get the first two legs of the Triple Crown. When that happens, attention becomes intense on the Belmont Stakes, the final race in the trio. There have been thirteen occasions when the Derby winner followed it up with a win in the Preakness and then sealed the deal with a victory in the Belmont, with Justify managing the feat in 2018.

Over the years, the Preakness has been interrupted on a few occasions and even left the state of Maryland on several occasions. In recent years, the monetary struggles of Pimlico and Maryland Thoroughbred racing in general have cast doubts on whether the race can continue indefinitely in its current location. Yet each year, the thousands that gather at the track for the Preakness are treated to a party atmosphere and usually get to enjoy a thrilling, important race.

The History of the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes actually predates the Kentucky Derby by a few years, making it the oldest of the three Triple Crown races. It was first contested in 1873 and was named after a horse that had won at Pimlico three years before. Survivor won the first-ever running in a romp.

The race started to bounce around a few decades later. It was held in 1890 in at a race track in the Bronx, NY, and then wasn't held at all for three years after that. Its home for the years from 1894 to 1908 was a track on Coney Island in New York named Gravesend Race Track.

Despite all of the comings and goings, the track still held its allure for the top three-year-olds in the country thanks to its solid purse structure. When the race returned to Pimlico in 1909, it quickly started to settle in as a major cultural event in the Baltimore area.

What really cinched Pimlico as a horse race of undeniable stature was when the concept of the Triple Crown first came into the public consciousness. Even though a horse named Sir Barton won all three races in 1919, the public didn't really recognize the significance of the feat. That would finally come in the 1930s when a pair of horses managed to win all three races and the term "Triple Crown" was first used by sportscasters to describe the accomplishment.

Characteristics of the Preakness

The Preakness Stakes might be one of the three races included in the Triple Crown, but it stands apart from the other two for a number of reasons. One of those is the date on which it is held. Although the date often changed in its early years, the Preakness has been held throughout the modern era on the third Saturday in May.

That puts it two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, which means that three-year-olds wanting to compete in both races will have to tighten their schedule much more than usual. Thoroughbreds in the modern age often go a month or more between races. To compete in both the Derby and the Preakness, horses have to manage the long distance of the Derby and come right back and race two weeks later.

Starting Gate of the Preakness

For that reason, some of the horses who compete at Churchill Downs in the Derby and don't finish well don't come back for the Preakness. As a result, the Preakness draws much smaller fields, and the results are much closer to form. There have been far fewer long-shot winners in the Preakness than in either of the other two Triple Crown races.

Another unique factor attached to the Preakness is the distance. Since 1925, horses have had to traverse 1 3/16 miles to win the race. That is the shortest distance of the three races in the Triple Crown. The Derby is 1 ¼ miles, while the Belmont comes in at 1 ½ miles.

The differing distances and the short period of time between races (the Belmont is just three weeks after the Preakness) are part of what makes winning the Triple Crown so difficult. As far as the distance for the Preakness Stakes, the race sets up better for horses who live to leave the gate quickly and hustle to the front end. Closers often find that they aren't able to run down the leaders in time with the shorter distance.

Great Preakness Champions

As might be expected, the 13 Triple Crown winners stand tall among those who have won the Preakness in the memories of racing fans. And among those, none was . The famous colt managed to win the Preakness in 1973 in a record time for the race at the 1 3/16-mile distance, tripping the timer in 1 minute and 53 seconds.

Several of the other Triple Crown winners have made lasting impressions on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico. The 1940s were a heyday for those standout horses, with four Triple Crown champs coming up big in the Preakness. In more recent times, American Pharoah dominated the Preakness in 2015 on his way to becoming the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.

But there have also been legendary horses who did not win the Triple Crown and still were heroes to the Pimlico faithful for their efforts in the Preakness. Perhaps the most monumental of those was Man o' War. As part of a career in which he lost only once in 21 career races, Man o' War captured the 1920 Preakness Stakes. He did not have the chance to win the Triple Crown because his handlers decided not to enter him in the Kentucky Derby.

In 1955, Nashua lost to Swaps in the Kentucky Derby, but then won the Preakness in a time that stood as the race record for 16 years; he would go on to beat Swaps in a famous match race. Spectacular Bid had bad luck on and off the track that cost him a chance at the Triple Crown in the 1979 Belmont Stakes. But he was brilliant in the Preakness, dominating the field for a romping victory.

In recent years, Smarty Jones overwhelmed the Preakness Stakes competition in 2004 by 11 ½ lengths, the widest margin in race history. And in 2009, Rachel Alexandra became the fifth filly in history to beat the boys and win the race.

Recent Winners
Year Horse Jockey Notes
2014 California Chrome Victor Espinoza Also won the Kentucky Derby but came up short in Belmont
2015 American Pharoah Victor Espinoza Would go on to finally end the long Triple Crown drought
2016 Exaggerator Kent Desormeaux In addition to Kent Desormeaux riding, the horse was trained by his brother, J. Keith Desormeaux
2017 Cloud Computing Javier Castellano Won the Preakness despite only having three previous races under his belt
2018 Justify Mike Smith Trainer Bob Baffert tied a record with his seventh victory

Preakness Traditions

As might be expected for a race that has been around for so long, there are many traditions attached to the Preakness Stakes. Many have been in existence for nearly as long as the race has been run. Chief among these is the fact that a garland of black-eyed Susans is typically laid across the winner at the end of the race.

The Black-Eyed Susan, a vodka and gin concoction, is also the official drink of the Preakness Stakes. Prior to the race, the crowd sings along to a marching band's rendition of "Maryland, My Maryland" in honor of the location. The winner is also awarded the Woodlawn Vase as the trophy, while the painting of a famed weather vane on top of the clubhouse with the winning colors is also part of the festivities.

Speaking of festivities, the Preakness also cultivates more of a party vibe than some of the other big horse races on the yearly schedule. In particular, the general admission spots in the infield draw a crowd looking to enjoy themselves in any manner possible. In the last decade or so, Pimlico has made an effort to turn the infield activities into an event on its own by inviting top musicians to perform leading up to the race.

How to Bet on the Preakness Stakes

If you happen to live near the Baltimore area, you can perhaps visit the track and make a wager on the race in person. Short of that, you can also find a simulcast area that will oblige. These areas allow for remote betting on horse racing events and can generally be found either at your local track or an off-track wagering facility.

In addition, modern horse racing fans also have the luxury of betting on all races through websites that cater to their needs. Many of these sites are associated specifically with the Preakness, including TwinSpires.com, also the main site for Kentucky Derby wagering.

When you go to wager online for the Preakness Stakes or any other race, it is always a good idea to make sure the site that you choose is just right for you. You should make sure that the site is easily navigated and that you can withdraw from or add to your account with ease. It might also be wise to ensure that the gambling site in question has some sort of official affiliation with or stamp of approval from the horse racing industry.

As far as strategies for betting the Preakness Stakes, it is important to remember the characteristics of the race that were mentioned above. You should be looking for horses that are well-suited to the distance. That usually means that they like to flash early speed and can carry that speed all the way to the finish line.

You also have to decide which horses are able to come back from the Derby strong after just two weeks off. The Triple Crown is so difficult to complete because it's a lot to ask of a horse to win three races in a five-week span at demanding distances and against top competition. If you think a horse had a particularly grueling journey in the Derby just two weeks earlier, it might be a good idea to throw them out of your considerations for the Preakness.

In recent years, there have been many horses who, for whatever reason, decide to skip the Kentucky Derby, even though they might have the qualifications to compete. These horses might then be ready for the Preakness, meaning that they would come in much fresher to face the Derby horses. If you can spot one of these horses, you might be able to get a value play to include in your straight (win, place, show) or exotic (exacta, trifecta, superfecta, Daily Double) wagers.

Preakness Stakes Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the most successful jockeys in Preakness Stakes history?
The legendary Eddie Arcaro won the race six times in a span of just 17 years in the 1940s and 1950s to lead all jockeys in Preakness history. More recently, Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux, and Victor Espinoza have won it three times each since 1997. Pat Day is the only jockey in history to win the race three years in a row, a feat he accomplished from 1994 to 1996.
Who are the most successful trainers in Preakness Stakes history?
R. Wyndham Walden won the Preakness as a trainer seven times in the 19th century, a feat that many people thought would never be equaled. But Bob Baffert has managed to do just that. Starting with his first Preakness win in 1997 and running through his victory with Justify in 2018, Baffert now has won the race seven times as well. Considering that he is still at the top of the profession, it wouldn't be surprising if he broke the record in the coming years.
What race is the distaff counterpart to the Preakness Stakes?
The Black-Eyed Susan is a race held at Pimlico exclusively for three-year-old fillies on the day before the Preakness Stakes. It is part of the Filly Triple Crown.
Who is the longest shot to ever win the Preakness Stakes?
Master Derby, winner of the 1975 race, went off at odds of 23-1. He paid $48 for a $2 winning ticket.