As part of our celebration of the 2011 Triple Crown of horse racing, THE VAULT takes a look back to recent and not-so-recent Preakness winners of the past.
The Preakness will be televised by NBC this coming Saturday. Be sure to tune in to cheer on your favourite and to let NBC know that we appreciate their coverage of the Triple Crown!
Every Preakness is exciting, possibly because the middle leg of the Triple Crown challenge holds its own enigma. Horses racing in the Preakness face a smaller field of 14 and a shorter race, making the “rules of the game” different from either the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont Stakes. More recently, the Preakness has also come to feature comparatively fresh horses — colts who bypassed the Derby for one reason or another, including the simple fact that their earnings weren’t high enough to make the Derby starter list. Another comparatively recent influence is the fact that many colts on the Triple Crown trail today are very lightly raced, making it more difficult to know their real potential, even if they are going into the starting gate as a Kentucky Derby winner.
Winning the Preakness involves a range of race strategies, a potpourri of thoroughbred abilities and a fair measure of good fortune. Colts who are closers have won, as well as one filly who took the lead early on and never relinquished it. Sometimes even a potentially dreadful traffic accident isn’t enough to deter a brave and determined thoroughbred. Read on and watch six very different Preakness winners, each of whom brought their own strengths to Pimlico on Preakness day. If nothing else, these six vignettes serve as a reminder that nothing is ever completely certain on race day. Except the anticipation that courses through the veins of horse and human alike — and the belief in the power of the mighty thoroughbred.
Preakness 2009: RACHEL ALEXANDRA
The incomparable Rachel Alexandra took the Preakness in style in 2009, just two weeks after her outstanding win in the Kentucky Oaks. Starting from the extreme outside in post 13, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro took the lead just passing the first quarter. Turning it on in the final turn, Rachel Alexandra blazed home ahead of Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to the screams, tears and shouts of her many fans. In winning the 2009 Preakness, Rachel became the first filly since 1924 to prove that in horse racing, sometimes it’s better to “run like a girl!”
Preakness 2004: SMARTY JONES
The Chapmans knew that they had a very special colt on their hands when the tough little chestnut recovered from a near-fatal injury to carry their colours through a string of victories, the Kentucky Derby included. And by the time the champion stepped into post position 7 in the Pimlico starting gate, he had garnered fans around the world. Electricity was in the air. All sensed the coming of a possible Triple Crown winner — the first since Affirmed, in 1978. Stuart Elliott, a hard-working jockey who had not known much notoriety before Smarty, believed in his tough little horse. And on that Saturday in late May, his faith was rewarded with a class not seen since. Stalking Lion Heart down the back stretch, Smarty took the lead at the final turn and never really looked back. He won by 11 1/2 lengths going away — the largest margin of victory in the history of the Preakness.
Preakness 2005: AFLEET ALEX
Afleet Alex was pretty much the colt to beat going into the 2005 Kentucky Derby. But, as luck would have it, he was denied by a valiant and talented son of Holy Bull named Giacomo. Going into the Preakness, there were still many, many fans in Afleet Alex’s corner. By the finish of the race, their faith seemed somewhat of an anti-climax.
Under young jockey, Jeremy Rose, who was also riding in his first Preakness, the handsome bay colt got off to a clean start. Running in 10th position along the back, Afleet Alex seemed blocked in by horses until his young jockey found a way through the pack to bring him running into the final turn. And then it happened. Scrappy T. lugged in on Afleet Alex after being hit by Ramon Dominguez, sending the bay colt almost to his knees. But in a feat of pure heart and strength, Afleet Alex rose from the dirt to fly like Pegasus into the lead and under the wire first. In fact, the champion won going away. Jeremy Rose would later say of his colt, “He protected me. He saved my life.” No-one who witnessed the 2005 Preakness will ever doubt the depth of heart and the talent of Afleet Alex.
Preakness 1979: SPECTACULAR BID
Spectacular Bid came along in the final year of a time that has since been described as “the decade of champions.” And it was. The 1970’s saw three Triple Crown winners and a score of other amazingly talented thoroughbreds, including the British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky. Among this kind of talent, Spectacular Bid stood tall. Affectionately nicknamed “The Bid,” the grey son of Bold Bidder went into the Kentucky Derby as an odds-on favourite with a crowd that had learned to recognize a champion when they saw one. Predictably, Bid took the Derby with ease and went on to score in the Preakness in an even easier-looking victory.
He seemed a cinch for the Triple Crown but lost the Belmont Stakes to a relative unknown named Coastal. It was later discovered that a safety pin had become lodged in his front foot, leading to inflammation in the laminae. The loss did little to deter Spectacular Bid’s supporters and the great horse would go on to win again and again. Retired to Claiborne Farm, the Bud Delp trained champion would later be painted there by Richard Stone Reeves, in company with Secretariat and Nijinsky. The painting was aptly named “Three Kings.”
Preakness 1974: LITTLE CURRENT
Little Current was a small chestnut colt who ran like the wind. The son of the great Sea-Bird II, acclaimed by many as the greatest thoroughbred of the last century, was another Triple Crown contender who would lose the Kentucky Derby, only to return with convincing wins in the Preakness and the Belmont. The game little horse arguably never got the respect he deserved, largely because his meagre 2 wins at 3 made him seem rather mediocre, at best. Little Current finished 5th in the Derby to Cannonade, after what could be modestly described as a “troubled trip.” In fact, following the events of the 1974 Derby, the decision was taken to limit the field to 20, beginning in 1975.There are still those today who believe that Little Current was hampered from becoming another Triple Crown champion by that overcrowded Derby field.
Whatever the cause, Little Current showed a winning form on Preakness day 1974 that left spectators gasping. Breaking from the inside post position 2, the colt trailed the field at first; when he began to move up, Little Current found himself confronted by a wall of horseflesh. Then, at the 3/16 pole, a small opening appeared and Little Current’s jockey, Miguel Rivera, shot him through. Moving up even with the leaders at the eighth pole, Little Current was all-the-world his daddy’s son as he moved to the lead to win by 7 lengths in the third fastest time ever recorded — one fifth off Secretariat’s Preakness, the year before.
The quick-footed little chestnut would go on to take the Belmont Stakes in authoritative fashion, silencing a veritable legion of critics. The Belmont footage appears below since there seems to be no video footage of Little Current’s Preakness victory available.
What a great “little current” he truly was!
Preakness 1973: SECRETARIAT
There’s little new under the sun that can be said about the beloved Secretariat that our readers don’t already know. But in terms of his Preakness run, there were a few notable facts. The first was that it was in the Preakness that Secretariat decided to go up with the leaders right at the start — a brand new tactic for the mighty son of Bold Ruler! He told his young jockey, Ron Turcotte, that he was ready to go to the lead in the famous “leap” he made passing the stands for the first time. As well, the big red colt won his Preakness in a hand-ride: he only seemed to need to be asked to keep his decided lead over the gallant Sham. Last, the recorded Preakness time lead to a dispute between track officials at Pimlico and the Daily Racing Form: the latter finding that Secretariat had, indeed, shattered the existing track record. However, the Preakness officials refused to change the time, despite a track enquiry where the DRF showed footage that clearly demonstrated they were wrong.