Saturday culminated the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes, with 'I'll Have Another' sneaking past 'Bodemeister' for the win. It was the most exciting race I've seen since I started watching about ten years ago when I was part of a muddy, stumbling infield. As I watched the the weathervane get painted with I'll Have Another's colors, it got me wondering where this tradition started. How did the Preakness start? Has the Preakness Stakes always been at Pimlico? Who won the first race? When did the amazing-ness of the infield party begin? So, I looked it up - Wikipedia really is a wealth of unsubstantiated knowledge.
Milton H. Sanford of New Jersey hosted a dinner party in 1868 at the Union Hall Hotel in Saratoga. Among the distinguished guests were John Hunter and Maryland Governor, Oden Bowie (Respect). Hunter suggested that a a stakes race be held in the fall of 1870 and, in honor of the feast, the race would be called the DInner Party Stakes. Bowie upped the ante and suggested that the race be held in Maryland and that a prize of $15,000 would go to the winner - a large sum of money in those days. Bowie promised to build a track and in the fall of 1870, Pimlico hosted the first Dinner Party Stakes. The winner of the stakes was Milton H. Sanford's horse. After the race, winning jockey Billy Hayward, following tradition, claimed a bag full of winnings hung from a wire that was stretched across the track. Some believe this is where the terms "purse" and "wire" became ingrained in horse racing. The Dinner Party Stakes would later be called the Dixie Handicap and is the 8th oldest stakes race in the United States.
In 1873, a Spring race was held at the new Pimlico. On May 27th, 12,000 spectators watched seven horses compete for a $2,050 purse, which was won by 'Survivor' by ten-lengths - a record until Smarty Jones' 11 1/2 lengths in 2004. Governor Bowie had named the race after the Dinner Party Stakes winner - Preakness.
For the next 17 years, the Preakness was held every Spring and its popularity grew until 1890 when changes in the racing industry forced Pimilco to suspend the race. The Preakness was then moved to Morris Park in New York that year and for fifteen years after to Gravesend Park in Brooklyn with no races between 1891 and 1893. It wasn't until 1909 that The Preakness returned to Pimlico and it has run every year ever since. The 1909 return to Pimlico also saw the tradition of singing "Maryland, my Maryland" begin.
Pretty interesting, but what about the infamous infield?
There isn't a lot of information about the the history of the infield. Some say it orginated during the Seabiscuit/War Admiral race on November 1, 1938 when 40,000 fans jammed Pimlico with 30,000 in the stands and over 10,000 in the infield. Sounds like a good start.
Over the years, the Preakness Infield has become famous, and infamous, for its unruly and raunchy atmosphere. It was the place to be for college students, including this one, to celebrate a 2-minute race with 10-hours of drinking - so said the slogan anyway. However, in 2009, officials pulled the plugged on the BYOB policy after events like 'The Running of the Preakness Porta-Potties', or 'Toilet Run', began overshadowing the actual race:
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the Infield is now under control with unlimited refills and $80 plastic mugs. Maroon 5 has replaced Porta-Pottie races and Kegasus has replaced a baby-pool filled with ice and Busch Light. As much as I miss those sloppy, drunken benders, I'm glad a little class is back with the Preakness Stakes - and by class I mean they put giant tents up so you can't see grown men and women vomiting on each and flashing the 98 Rock stage to get free t-shirts - it's like a giant carpet to sweep the trash under so it's not on NBC.
So there's your quick history lesson on Pimlico and The Preakness. I'm sure I may have left out a detail here or there, but I don't care. I'm tired.
And congrats to I'll Have Another, cause I swear if I had to see another interview with Bob Baffert and that kid of his I was going to get up out of my beer-filled baby-pool and throw a Natty through my TV. Some traditions should never change.