Handicapping Maryland’s leg of the Triple Crown
On Saturday, May 17, 120,000 people will pour into Pimlico Race Course for the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes, Maryland’s leg of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Next to that crowd, Maryland’s other sporting crowds are dwarfs.
Baltimore’s Orioles topped out with 49,828 fans on Camden Yards’ biggest day, July 10, 2005.
Baltimore’s Ravens summited at 71,547 in a 2012 divisional playoff game on January 15, 2012. Speaking of football, the Super Bowl’s biggest crowd was 103,438 back in 1980 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
The Main Event
By the numbers, the Preakness Stakes is no Super Bowl. Football, baseball and basketball games last for hours.
Blink and you’ll miss the Preakness. At a mile and three-sixteenths, the race is run in under two minutes. The legendary Secretariat set the race record of 1:53 in 1973.
What the Preakness Stakes lacks in length it makes up for in pageantry. Two days of well-hyped race course events draw a bigger crowd — likely rising above 150,000 people — rivaling the rest of Maryland thoroughbred races combined (April through June 7 at Pimlico in Baltimore, home of the Preakness, and January through March at Laurel Park).
The typical day’s race card includes eight or, as on Preakness Day, nine races. Preakness post time is 6:20pm, with lots of pomp and circumstance. Before, the horses are decked out in the paddock, mounted and paraded to the starting gate. After, the sweaty winner is draped with a blanket of imitation Black-eyed Susans (the state flower doesn’t bloom until late June) while victorious jockey and rapturous owners and trainers pinch themselves.
The Thrill of the Race
One and a half million dollars is at stake in the two-minutes of Preakness. Excitement exudes from that kind of money. The race itself is a two-minute adrenaline rush as horses bred to run are whipped on by jockeys with everything to win. Color and speed combine with the athleticism of horses and
riders in a thrilling spectacle.
Gambling adds to the electric intensity. Illegal in all other professional sports played in Maryland, betting is as much a part of racing as the wave, peanuts or Crackerjack to baseball. For as little as $2, you can buy a stake in every race. Step right up to the long line of windows and lay your money down.
Learn all about wagering — except how to win — at www.preakness.com/race-info/wagering-101-winning-preakness.
Ten three-year-old thoroughbred horses are the athletes exerting that powerful drawn. The field could swell to 14.
Leading the field is Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, a three-year-old who’s won more than $2.5 million.
Only one other, the filly Ria Antonia, has earned a million plus.
Of the other runners, three have broken $150,000: Kid Cruz, Pablo Del Monte and Social Inclusion (actually $600 short).
Five more have earned under $500,000: Bayern, Dynamic Impact, General a Rod, Ride on Curlin and Ring Weekend.
The Horse to Beat
The Kentucky Derby winner always comes to the Preakness Stakes as the popular favorite.
This year that’s California Chrome, who ran the one-and-one-quarter-mile Derby in a slow 2:30:66 (Secretariat holds the Derby speed record at 1:59.40). The second horse finished one and three-quarters lengths behind California Chrome.
Bred in California, Chrome has Maryland ties through his dam (that’s horse talk for mother), Love the Chase, who was born in Chestertown.
Touting the Bet
With $2.5 million in his treasure chest and his Kentucky Derby victory, California Chrome is the odds-on favorite.
Odds-on means nothing in horse racing, where favorites routinely flag, fail and even fall while dark horses jet out of nowhere to victory.
Or near victory. 2002’s dark horse was Magic Weisner. A Maryland bargain-basement buy with a sickly colthood, Magic sped to the Preakness finish line three-quarters of a length behind the winner. Had the Preakness been a mile and four- rather than three-sixteenths, Magic would have been in the winner’s circle.
Magic’s pre-Preakness earnings were $230,000. Could $360,000-winner Dynamic Impact play the dark-horse role a dozen years later? That’s just one of the numerological rolls a handicapper might make.
Breeding weighs heavily in racing predictions. By that standard, smart money might go on Ride on Curlin, a son of 2007 Preakness winner (and two-time Horse of the Year) Curlin.
Handicapping horse races is an art, not a science. The horse always wins over the experts, despite their libraries of statistics.
The Triple Crown
The Triple Crown is to horse racing what the World Series is to baseball and the Super Bowl is to football: fame, riches and a franchise.
Three races over five weeks stud the Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness Stakes on the third Saturday in May and the longest, the mile-and-a half Belmont Stakes, on June 7.
The winner of each race takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from $1.5 million pots divided among the top horses. The winner of all three would earn a couple of million. Plus, if the winner is a stallion, he stands to earn tens of millions of dollars in stud fees.
The Triple Crown has been claimed only 11 times in 138 years — and never since 1978, when Affirmed was crowned. He was one of three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s. The 1930s also had three, and the 1940s four. Making 11 is the first winner, Sir Barton, in 1919.
Like Citation before him, Affirmed has held onto his last-horse honor for 35 years.
Is this the year to break the curse? If so, California Chrome, with one jewel already in his crown, is the horse to do it.
The Dark Filly
Like female athletes, fillies usually run against their own sex. But that’s competition rather than regulation. Canadian filly Ria Antonia will be only the 54th filly to compete in the Preakness. Five fillies have won, the most recent Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Ria Antonia comes to the Belmont Stakes with $125 million in winnings — but no wins in 2014.
If she’s 2014’s dark horse, we’ll have no Triple Crown winner this year.
The Female Factor
The only woman jockey in the race is Rosie Napravnik, riding Bayern. Last year, Napravnik became the third — and fastest — woman to ride in the Preakness. At 26, she’s won races worth more than $17.5 million.
Linda Rice, the only woman trainer in this year’s race, brings to 15 the number of women to train horses running in the Preakness. Her horse in the race is Kid Cruz. Magic Weisner’s trainer, the late Nancy Alberts, holds the record for best finishing female trainer at the Preakness.
Women are the hoped-for crowd of pre-Preakness Day, marketed as Black Eyed-Susan Day and touted as the Ultimate Girls Day Out. The 9am-to-9pm day features wellness events, fashion shows, three infield concerts and a networking lunch with actress Mariel Hemingway. There’s horse racing, too, in eight thoroughbred races and handicapping and betting seminars.
The Biggest Party Around
With 120,000 guests expected Preakness Day, Pimlico has many tastes to satisfy. Choices range from Preakness Village, “a first-class entertainment indulgence” to the Grandstand to the infield. (Tickets at www.preakness.com/tickets/seating-information.)
Likely guests range from Gov. and Judge O’Malley through the social spectrum, with young adults a big, happy percentage of the crowd. Styles range from elegant to nearly naked.
Wildest is the infield, where many thousands of the young and young at heart throw themselves into an all-day, all-weather frenzy of drinking, dancing, music and sport.
By the time the horses go to the gate for the Preakness Stakes, at about 6pm, the infield will be a “drunken mess.” That’s the 2013 report of former Bay Weekly staffer Ashley Brotherton, who ought to know.
Whatever Happened to …
Casino gambling was first touted, back in the early century, as the salvation of Maryland’s fading tradition of horse racing. If you imagined those casinos would go to racetracks, you’re one of many who was wrong.
Only one of Maryland’s six casinos ended up at a racetrack: Worchester County’s 34,000-square-foot Ocean Downs Casino shares space with Ocean Downs Racetrack, where the sport is harness racing. Maryland’s other harness racing track, Rosecraft in Prince George’s County, lost out to National Harbor, where MGM expects to build an enormous casino on the Potomac River.
Some of money people lose to casino slot machines trickles down to the racetracks: seven percent to horse racing purses and two and one-half percent to renewal of track facilities.
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If a crowd 120,000-people strong is too much for you, throw your own Preakness Party. Of course you must serve Black-eyed Susans. Televised coverage begins at 4:30pm on NBC.