Joe Palmer on the Lost Preakness, 1950

May 18th 2011 09:00 am |

Last year I did a post titled the Preakness Stakes and Revisionist History. In that post, I wrote about the origins of the current history of the big race in Baltimore. It turns out, the official number of Preakness runnings changed in 1948, over a half century after the first running, when Dave Woods, from the Public Relations Department at the Maryland Jockey Club, “discovered” a race of the same name being run in New York between in 1894 and 1908. During this same period, the Preakness was not run in Baltimore.

When the so-called “lost Preakness” races was found, it created an awkward moment in American stakes race history:  Faultless won the fifty-seventh running of the race in 1947 but Citation won Preakness number seventy-one in 1948.

I think I made a compelling argument last year, based on primary sources, that the New York Preakness shouldn’t count in the history of Pimlico’s Preakness. It turns out, I have pretty good company in that assertion. One of my all time favorite race writers, Joe Palmer, wrote of this very topic in 1950. Somehow, I missed Mr. Palmer’s piece on this when writing about it last year. So I thought I would post it this week, as we get ready for either the 136th or 120th Preakness:

“The history of the Pimlico fixtures has certain angles which fascinate the onlooker. You’ve heard that there are a thousand ways to lose a horse race, of course. But that’s for a horse, or a bettor. I doubt if you ever heard of a racetrack losing one of its features for forty years. During an unguarded moment, the Preakness escaped from the grounds and for fifteen years lived in hiding at the old Gravesend course. Then it was apprehended and brought back. But this dropped from history until recently.

Program for the 1931 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course

“Like the story of the man in the man iron mask, there remains a question of whether mistaken identity was involved. There was no Preakness Stakes at Pimlico between 1894 and 1908, inclusive. There was a stakes of that name run at Gravesend, or, as our Mr Smith puts it with his Latin flair, Preaknii? A Mr. Alexander Dumas solved the identity of that gloomy figure in French monarchical history to his satisfaction. A Mr. Dave Woods has solved the question of the wandering Preakness to his satisfaction. He says its the same character…[Woods] does public relations for Pimlico and might, in other quarters be considered prejudice.

“An oddity of this is that nobody remembers. There are still a good many men who raced at Gravesend in the old days, but none of them can recall the moving of this race. Nor has Mr. Woods been able to find any documentary evidence in the publications of the time.”

In regards to the lack of documentary evidence proving the idea that the Preakness moved, I ran into the same problem. In fact, if you look at the primary sources, the race known as the Preakness run in New York appears to have no connection whatsoever to the race in Baltimore (besides the name, of course).

This is one of those pieces of history that is open to interpretation. Whatever the real history might be, the Preakness is a race that ranks among the most historically significant races in the country, and I am looking forward to the 120th edition on Saturday.

Sources, News, and Notes

“Pimlico – The Preakness” from This was Racing by Joe Palmer edited by Red Smith (1953)

To read more about the “lost years” of the Preakness in New York, check out the piece from Teresa Genaro at Hello Race Fans

Many thanks to Ron Micetic who sent me scans of the 1931 Preakness program from his collection.

I will be in the house for the Preakness on Saturday. I haven’t been to Pimlico on Preakness day since 2006 and I am looking forward to a return. I’ll be tweeting live from Pimlico throughout the day for Hello Race Fans (@helloracefans) so, if you have a Twitter account, be sure to follow.

I wrote a profile of Afleet Alex, one of my all time favorite horses, for Hello Race Fans.  Read it here…

Last week I mentioned that I thought horse racing on NBC/Versus was a partnership that would be beneficial for the sport. Coincidentially, NYRA mentioned a new partnership with the network to broadcast Saturdays from Saratoga on Versus and the Travers on NBC. This is a great move for racing. Alan at Left at the Gate wrote about it in detail at his site. Check out his take on the new deal.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Pimlico Race Track,Preakness,thoroughbred racing history



2 Responses to “Joe Palmer on the Lost Preakness, 1950”

  1. Don Reed says:

    Given the bizarre results of the individual 2011 Derby Trail events & then of the Derby itself, here are the likely guidelines as to who will win the Preakness:

    A horse that has had less than two starts prior to the Preakness;

    A horse that actually will become three years old only on December 31, 2011;

    A horse that has not yet raced on dirt…tapeta…crayons…real grass…NASA moon rocks …or airport conveyer belt “people movers”;

    A horse owned by someone who is taking Jim Squires’ advice…about anything;

    The horse that in the Preakness gate will cast itself, be rescued & reloaded & sent on his way;

    A horse being ridden by a jockey whose first career victory occurs on the same day as the Preakness itself, in the 2nd race that went off at 4:49 a.m. at Pimlico;

    A horse that is being trained by a California trainer who has never heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger –

    [For Triple Crown bonus points, redeemable in cash or bail bonds: Dominick Strauss-Kahn, Pat Biancone, a Frank Stronach-mandated stock dividend, Nancy Pelosi, France, Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, Jeff Mullins, the Al & Tipper Gore divorce…Al Gore himself…and/or the British system of Exchange Betting];

    And above all, by a horse that will be the least affected by Pimlico’s annual infrastructure fiasco, an event that more often than not somehow manages to occur on Preakness Day itself.

  2. Allan Carter says:

    Kevin,
    I agree that the Maryland Jockey Club erred when it decided to include the missing Preaknesses with the legitimate Preaknesses. Note that the winner of the 1890 “Preakness” (which was on the undercard of that year’s Belmont Stakes) was won by Montague, a 5-year-old. Thanks to the Maryland Jockey Club, he has the distinction of being the oldest horse to win a Triple Crown race.
    Another irony is that all the “Preaknesses” that were run at Gravesend were so cheap that no Kentucky Derby winner would have been eligible to compete in them because they had won too much money in the Derby (which didn’t have much of a purse).

    Allan Carter