The Winner's Circle at the 1973 Preakness. Photo from America's Best Racing.

The History of the Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore

05/19/2017
By Waxter Intern

All of your questions about the Preakness and Pimlico are answered below – by history! How’d Baltimore get the race? Why is it called the Preakness? And how much does the winner take home? Read this blog before the annual race starts:

What we know today as the Preakness Stakes, second jewel of the Triple Crown, began at a dinner party in Saratoga, New York in 1868. Maryland Governor Oden Bowie, businessman Milton H. Sanford, and prominent New Yorker John Hunter decided to hold a horse race in two years’ time, when their then yearling race horses would be three years old. The American Jockey Club and the City of Saratoga bid to host the race, but Governor Bowie promised that if the race were to be held in Baltimore, he would build a beautiful new race course for the occasion. Thus, the Preakness and Pimlico were born.

Pimlico in Baltimore.

THE DINNER PARTY STAKES

Pimlico was engineered by the Baltimore architect, General John Ellicott. It was built overlooking Jones Falls, and wealthy race-goers could be seen in Druid Hill Park travelling in their carriages to the racetrack. The first race, known as the “Dinner Party Stakes,” after the dinner party that started it all, was held in 1870. Milton Sanford’s colt, Preakness, won the race. The Preakness Stakes, first held three years later in 1873, takes its name from this winning horse.

Although the first Preakness Stakes was run two years before the first Kentucky Derby, the it is now the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, preceded by the Kentucky Derby in early May, and followed by the Belmont Stakes in June. It is the shortest of the three races, at 9 ½ furlongs – roughly 1.2 miles. At the inaugural race, the winning purse was $2,050; today the winner receives $1.5 million. The race is sometimes referred to as “the Run for the Black-Eyed Susan,” after the wreath of flowers, made to look like Maryland’s state flower, which is presented to the winner of the race. Other Preakness traditions include singing Maryland’s state song, Maryland, My Maryland, before the race and awarding the winner the Woodlawn Cup, which has been raced for in various states since 1861.

In 2009, Magna Entertainment Corporation, which owned the Preakness and Pimlico, filed for bankruptcy, and Marylanders worried that the race might move out of the state. However, in April of that year, the Maryland Legislature voted to buy the race and Pimlico if Magna Entertainment could not find a buyer. Magna Entertainment’s parent company now owns and runs the course jointly with racetrack operator, Penn National, and the Maryland Jockey Club, helping secure the future of this Maryland tradition.

This post was written by Maggie Pelta-Pauls, a Waxter Intern with Preservation Maryland. A graduate of The College of William and Mary, Maggie is primed to research and write about Maryland history – especially culinary history. Learn more about Maggie and our The Waxter Memorial Internship program here: presmd.org/waxter.

Waxter Intern

A legacy gift from William D. Waxter, III established the Waxter Memorial Internship to help Preservation Maryland support the next generation in historic preservation.

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