The Preakness and Revisionist History

May 13th 2010 07:56 am |

See also: Joe Palmer on the ‘Lost’ Preakness

Race writer Teresa Genero wrote a piece for Hello Race Fans called “Preakness: The Lost New York Years” that covers (much more eloquently then me) some of the ground I am covering this week. In her article she recounts the early history of the Preakness and the sixteen editions of the race in New York that are referred to on the Preakness website as the “lost” years.

According to an article from 1948, the Maryland Jockey Club “discovered” the Preakness in New York and incorporated it into their official history the same year. So in 1947, Faultless won the fifty-seventh running of the race but Citation won Preakness number seventy-one in 1948.

The idea of historical “discoveries” rarely stand-up to closer examination — the “discovery” of the Preakness in the middle of the century is no exception.

The Maryland Jockey Club will call this year’s Preakness the 135th edition since they count, obviously, all the editions run in Maryland and the sixteen in New York. However, from the perspective of race writers in the first half of the 20th century, including the editors of the Daily Racing Form, the Preakness in New York was not part of the historical memory or the historical record of the Preakness in Maryland.

In 1909, when Pimlico re-established the Preakness Stakes, the New York Times had this:

The committee of the Maryland Jockey Club expressed its hope of reviving the old classic stakes of that club, and stated that its programme (sic) would consist of stakes, purses, and handicaps”

The Jockey Club announced that it would add a cup or a plate to the value of less than $500 to the Preakness Stakes to be run in the Spring.”

No mention at all of a race called the Preakness in New York — an interesting omission considering the source. If anyone was to acknowledge the loss of the New York Preakness, that would be the place, right?

Early in the 1920s, the history of the race was especially muddled. On May 14, 1922, the Racing Form wrote: “The first running of the Preakness occurred on May 12, 1909. The race was an allowance affair, at one mile, with $2000 and $500 in plate added…” The Daily Racing Form was not alone in this assertion that 1909 was the first Preakness. The Washington Post, in their story of the 1924 Preakness called that year’s edition the sixteenth running.

By 1925, the Racing Form, and others, began to rightly count the earlier versions of the race in Maryland but did not acknowledge those run in New York. They wrote that the race was discontinued in 1888 and not revived until 1909. All newspapers, including the New York Times jived with the DRF history. In 1936, a Times headline read “Forty-Sixth Running of Maryland’s Historic Preakness…” In 1941, Whirlaway won the fifty-first edition of the Preakness. The Daily Racing Form agreed. The New York editions were not counted.

Grantland Rice, one of the most respected sports writers of the era, wrote this in a column on May 13, 1939:

Start with Survivor, the winner of the first Preakness run in 1873 — two years before the first Derby. Skip down the years past the break from 1889 to 1909 — a twenty-year lapse when the race was forgotten save by some sentimental souls who at last succeeded in having it revived…”

The “race was forgotten” not moved.

The history seemed clear but, suddenly, in 1948, Preakness history changed. According to the Miami News, in a story published May 2nd 1948, the Maryland Jockey Club “…said it ‘discovered’ 15 of the [Preakness] stakes had been run in Brooklyn. There still are four unaccounted for.”  They would discover one more in the 1960s, a version of the race run in 1890 at Morris Park in New York.

History is a strange thing as sometimes one man’s fact is another’s fiction. I can’t help but ask the question: Should the New York Preakness be counted in the official history of the race? The New York Times didn’t think so when the 1909 stakes schedule was reported for Pimlico. The writers for the Daily Racing Form in the 1920s (and other race writers of that era) likely knew about a race called the Preakness that was run in New York. However, they didn’t consider that race a continuation of the race started in Maryland in 1873. Furthermore, they didn’t consider the Preakness that started in 1909 in Maryland as a race that “moved” from New York.

In the days before heavy-handed PR and Marketing Departments, newspaper writers recorded the history of sporting events. Racing writers in the 1920s had living memories of the Preakness in New York and Maryland but wrote a different history than the one we know today.

If we accept the current history, then we must accept the claim of the Maryland Jockey Club from 1948.  But the Jockey Club had a vested interest to enhance Preakness history because of their Triple Crown association with the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby — two races with clear historical lineages. In fact, an article from 1948 claimed that the 19-year-break from 1890 to 1908 had been a “sore spot to racing-conscious Marylanders.” As counted now, they are just one edition away from matching the big race in Kentucky. Something tells me, if the Maryland Jockey Club could have found a Preakness being run somewhere in the United States (Trenton?) during one of the “lost” years, they would have happily re-written their history again. If they had found two, even better.

Only a nerdy historian like myself would bring this up. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. This is one of those unknowable pieces of history that depends on one’s perspective and what source you find more reliable. If anything, this case shows that history is more than a recitation of facts — it is the interpretation of facts.

Either way, I know I’ll enjoy the 119th running of the Preakness at Pimlico this Saturday.


“Pimlico Racing Plans,” New York Times, 16 March 1909

…condensed history of the Preakness Handicap…,” Daily Racing Form, 18 May 1915

History of the Preakness,” Daily Racing Form, 14 May 1922

“Nellie Morse Splashes Homes to Preakness Victory,”  Washington Post, 13 May 1924

More Preakness History,” Daily Racing Form, 23 April 1925

“The Spotlight by Grantland Rice,”  The Binghamton Press, 13 May 1939

Preakness Records Show Race Run During 19-Year Bream – 1890-1908,”  The Montreal Gazette, 1948 March 26 “12 Day Stand for Pimlico,”  The Miami News, 2 May 1948

Some excellent historical pieces have been posted this week that are definitely worth a click:
Nellie Morse’s Most Worthy Foe: A Little Known Filly Called Outline from Valerie Grash at Fillies First
Plucky Mrs. Bagwell from Jessica Chapel of Railbird fame and curator of Raceday360
And, as mentioned before, Teresa’s article on the Preakness from Hello Race Fans

Also, be sure to check out the new issue of Zatt Magazine that will be online Friday morning.

This is the time of year, when I think about going to the Preakness (just an hour away) but remember the overpriced seating and what a pain-in-the-butt it is getting in and out of Pimlico.  Delaware Park will likely serve as my home for Preakness day.  They had a big crowd for Kentucky Derby day.  I’m looking forward to spending another great day there on Saturday (that is, if I don’t end up at Pimlico).

As much as I will be rooting for Super Saver to win on Saturday, I think Looking at Lucky is going to spoil this year’s Triple Crown try.


Filed in Preakness,thoroughbred racing history

3 Responses to “The Preakness and Revisionist History”

  1. Teresa says:

    Terrific stuff, Kevin–amazing that during those years, the Times reported on a race called the Preakness but later didn’t consider it an extension of the race in Maryland.

    Do you have an opinion on whether the non-MD races should be counted?

  2. Kevin says:

    Hey Teresa: Thanks! The primary source is the most reliable source. If the editors and writers of the Daily Racing Form and New York Times didn’t think they should be counted, then neither do I. Kevin

  3. I didn’t know that there was a racetrack in Trenton, NJ back then.

    I was looking earlier this week for the defunct racetrack in Paterson, NJ.
    The one that held the oldest Derby in the U.S. – The Jersey Derby.

    Any leads on where that Paterson racetrack was located at?