Revisiting the “Lost” Preakness

May 16th 2017 11:58 am |

In the third week of March 1948, a strange thing happened in racing history. That year’s pending Preakness Stakes at Pimlico went from being billed as the 58th running of the race to the 73rd. The Preakness record books were literally re-written. What happened? An article published on March 25th in the Baltimore Sun explained under the headline “15 Races Found: Preakness vs. Derby”:

The Maryland Jockey Club has dug up fifteen hitherto unrecorded running of the Preakness – in New York – which makes 72 Preakness races, only two less than the Derby.”

But in the long argument over tradition and glory in the two rich stakes for 3-year-old thoroughbreds, that about makes things even. The Preakness is two years older.”

The Derby people have always pointed proudly to its unbroken string of renewals since 1875. The Preakness records, starting in 1873, have shown an embarrassing nineteen year gap between 1889 and 1909.

Now the Maryland Jockey Club is coming up with musty files to claim the Preakness Stakes was run from 1894-1908 at Gravesend track in Brooklyn.

How or why the Preakness moved to the Brooklyn track still is a mystery, but it was called the Preakness in charts and the Pimlico operators have them ready to back their claim…

…And just to keep the Kentucky colonels uneasy, the Maryland Jockey Club points out there still are four years, 1890-93, in which the Preakness is unaccounted for. If the records or someone can produce proof of them, the Preakness then will not only be older but will have been run more often than the Derby.

Anticipating a Kentucky howl over claiming credit for a stakes run on another track, the Maryland club calls upon precedent. The Belmont Park Matron Stakes was run officially in 1910 at Pimlico. During the last war, Havre de Grace, Bowie, and Laurel all kept stakes alive by holding them at Pimlico.

That article originated in Baltimore and appeared via the Associated Press wire service in papers across the country. The text of the article varied little from the source but the headline did. A somewhat dubious headline writer had this in the Wilmington (Delaware) Morning News:

The Louisville Courier Journal‘s headline may have caused a few gasps from its readers when they opened their daily paper:

Two days after the initial report, the Baltimore Sun followed up the story under the headline: “Preakness Run at Gravesend? Its 1910 Winner Can’t Prove it.” Jockey Roy Estep won the 1910 edition of the race in Baltimore aboard Layminster. Quoted in the story, Estep told reporter Joseph Kelly, “Naturally, I remember the 1910 race the best, but I never heard of a race called the Preakness being run at Gravesend, and I rode at that track many times.” The jockey, who spent most of his life in Baltimore, likely shared the sentiment of all Maryland racing partisans telling the reporter that, while he didn’t recall the race being run in New York, he hoped the news was true.

At the end of March, Humphrey Finney, founding editor of the Maryland Horse magazine and future namesake of the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga, was the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders Association. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, he was one of the people responsible for finding the “lost” editions of the race in New York and, during a speech called “most entertaining” by the paper, said this to an amused audience of local┬áhorsemen:

“Kentuckians needn’t be alarmed, we still need to find two more Preaknesses to catch up with the Derby. And even if we find them by hook or by crook, we Marylanders always will admit that the Derby is a good race — a good preparatory race for the Preakness”

And with that parting shot, the story disappeared. When the Preakness rolled around in May, newspapers reported on the 73rd edition of the race with a brief explanation or no explanation at all. There were far more important matters to concern race fans and journalists. For instance, a colt named Citation running his way to a Triple Crown sweep.

The ever observant and skeptical Joe Palmer made his opinion known on the Maryland Jockey Club’s revision of Preakness history. He pointed out – in a piece included in This Was Racing — that the Preakness publicist, Dave Woods, the other person along with Finney credited with the revised history, found no evidence that the race in Baltimore moved to New York. While they did uncover a race called the Preakness run in New York, they found nothing to indicate that it was indeed the same race outside of name alone. (Read more on Palmer’s take here…)

In the internet era, we have multiple means to search substantial archives of newspapers. I have searched for evidence that the famed Preakness of Baltimore relocated north in the 1890s. I am still looking. I may find it one of these days but I have my doubts. I have found a race run in New York called the Preakness but nothing to indicate it traced its lineage to the same race in Baltimore.

I hope you all enjoy this Saturday’s 126th running of the Preakness Stakes.


“15 Races Found: Preakness vs. Derby,” Baltimore Sun, 25 March 1948

“15 Unrecorded Runnings of Preakness are Found,” The Cumberland News, 25 March 1948

“Officials Trying to Prove Preakness is Older than Derby,” The Jackson Sun, 25 March 1948

“Maryland Jockey Club Claims 15 Preakness Races Unrecorded,” The Morning News, 25 March 1948

“Maryland Digs Up 15 More Preaknesses,” The Courier-Journal, 25 March 1948

“Preakness Run at Gravesend? Its 1910 Winner Can’t Prove It,” Baltimore Sun, 27 March 1948

“Breeders Elect Roscoe Goose,” The Courier-Journal, 31 March 1948

I have written a few articles about this topic. Handicappers pet peeve about the Preakness is the myth of “tight turns” and “new shooters” — my pet peeve is its fake history in New York. Ha! Here are the other articles I have written about the “Lost” Preaknesses:

Preakness Stakes and Revisionist History

Joe Palmer on the Lost Preakness, 1950

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Preakness,Triple Crown

5 Responses to “Revisiting the “Lost” Preakness”

  1. Mary Ellen Polson says:

    Oddly enough, I came across the 1895 version held at Gravesend last night in Goodwin’s Turf Guide 1895 Vol. 1 (p 307). The $2,000 Preakness Stakes for 3-year-olds was run on May 25 under allowance conditions. The winner, Belmar, was owned by the Preakness Stable. Belmar also won the Belmont Stakes that year.

  2. great article I think its clear the race was abandoned not move in that late 80s early 00s gap and the Maryland J C should accept it as fact. The race is no less historically important to race fans.

  3. Dale Wyatt says:

    I have several media guides for the Preakness.

    In the chronology of Pimlico, it has this: 1888: Racing abandoned at Pimlico until 1904. 1894: fire destroys Pimlico grandstand September 2. 1898: on April 26 the First Maryland Brigade went into training at Camp Wilmer, set up in the Pimlico infield, less than 48 hours after Spain declared war on the US.

    On page 23 Preakness Media Guide for 1976

  4. Dale Wyatt says:

    I have a pamphlet published by Maryland Horse. It states that it was a sudden decision to abandon race meets at Pimlico under the auspices of the MJC. Some of the reasons listed had to do with competition from small tracks in NJ and elsewhere. But the main reason was that major stables left Pimlico for other venues.

    During this period there were still meets but they usually consisted of harness racing or steeplechasing.

  5. Dale Wyatt says:

    In a book by Joseph J. Challmes entitled The Preakness: A History, he discusses the Preakness run at Morris Park in 1890: “that if it was even related…to the Preakness at Baltimore is a matter for question. The records of the MJC, which certainly had influence in NY and could have urged the race be kept alive…were lost in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.” (P. 33)