The Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, never will replace the Kentucky Derby as the most recognizable race in America.
But there’s no way the Preakness comes in second to the Derby – or to any race, for that matter – for producing memorable moments.
Again and again, the Preakness, like the Derby, delivers racing at its best. A classic is a classic, whether the race is in Kentucky or Maryland or New York.
How could a race be better than the Preakness in 1989, when Sunday Silence and Easy Goer offered the most thrilling of their four meetings in the greatest rivalry since Affirmed and Alydar. The ’89 Preakness provided more twists and turns than any roller-coaster.
After breaking in the air, Easy Goer quickly found his footing and took off running. Heading into the final turn, Easy Goer surged past Sunday Silence and pace-setter Houston to take the lead. Sunday Silence had to steady behind Houston entering the turn, and Easy Goer appeared in charge of the race.
But not for long.
Few horses ran the turns as well as Sunday Silence, who wasn’t as big and powerful as Easy Goer, but was more athletic and nimble. By the time the horses reached the top of the stretch, Sunday Silence had caught Easy Goer.
They raced side by side all the way down the stretch, Sunday Silence on the outside and Easy Goer along the rail, before Sunday Silence prevailed by a nose. The image of Easy Goer’s head cocked toward Sunday Silence in the final yards remains burned in this fan’s memory.
So are many other Preakness images. Here are some favorites.
A sensational stretch run capped the Preakness in 1997, when Silver Charm demonstrated his grit and pushed past Free House in the final strides to win by a head. Captain Bodgit was closing fast, finishing another head back. If not for a bad stumble at the break, Touch Gold might have been involved in the photo, too. His day would come three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes.
The 2005 Preakness, won by Afleet Alex, was all about the incident at the top of the stretch, when he clipped heels with Scrappy T but somehow didn’t go down. Somehow, jockey Jeremy Rose didn’t fall off Afleet Alex. It was remarkable how quickly he got back into stride.
The Curlin-Street Sense stretch run in 2007 was a beauty. Street Sense appeared to have the race won when he opened daylight in midstretch, but Curlin closed relentlessly and won by a head.
I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister put on a similar show in the stretch in last year’s Preakness. I’ll Have Another, who had taken advantage of a super-fast pace to run down Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby, stayed in touch of a moderate pace set by him in the Preakness and caught him again.
The 2009 Preakness showcased the brilliance of the filly Rachel Alexandra. Lasting images are her gunning to the early lead from the No. 13 post position and holding off Mine That Bird late.
A heated early duel between Winning Colors and Forty Niner, and Risen Star cruising past them along the rail en route to victory, are the images of the 1988 Preakness. Granted, Risen Star’s connections to New Orleans make memories of that Preakness extra special. But make no mistake, Risen Star was a tremendous horse, and his overwhelming Belmont victory would emphasize the point.
Blowouts are among favorite memories of the Preakness. Hansel’s romp in the 1991 Preakness and Smarty Jones’ domination of the 2004 race stand out.
Funny Cide’s runaway victory in 2003 is a special memory because of the circumstances. Jockey Jose Santos had come under fire after winning the Derby on Funny Cide when a newspaper report suggested that the jockey might have been carrying a shocking device. Churchill Downs stewards cleared Santos before the Preakness, and in the race at Pimlico, Funny Cide stated his case that the allegations were absurd.
As this Preakness nears, Derby winner Orb naturally is the focus. His victory at Churchill Downs was decisive, and on a five-race winning streak, he appears to be improving steadily.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has run only two horses in the Preakness, Easy Goer being the last. Racing people genuinely were happy to see McGaughey win the Derby and achieve the signature victory in his outstanding career. It’s obvious that his peers respect him.
But that doesn’t mean anyone wants to hand the Preakness to Orb.
As of Friday, it appeared that 11 horses might challenge him in the Preakness. Seven of them finished behind him in the Derby.
People affiliated with those horses will be talking about how circumstances will be different this time, how a sloppy track might have benefited Orb in the Derby, how a contested, suicidal pace helped set up that race for him.
Even a horse who was trounced in the Derby can win the Preakness. Louis Quatorze, who rebounded from a 16th-place finish in the Derby in 1998 to win at the Preakness, likely will be mentioned during Preakness week by somebody on the backstretch.
People affiliated with newcomers to the Triple Crown series will be talking about how it might be advantageous not to have run in the Derby, though the Preakness generally is won by a horse coming out of that race. Since 1980, only six Preakness winners – the latest being Rachel Alexandra – were horses who didn’t run in the Derby.
It’s almost time to add another page to Preakness history, to find out if Orb will move closer to a Triple Crown or if another horse will become the talk of the racing world.
More memorable moments are coming.