So you're sad the Kentucky Derby's over, and you're ready for the second leg of horse racing's biggest prize, the Triple Crown. Two weeks (to the day) after the Run for the Roses, the Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, is actually the oldest of all the Triple Crown races, first run in 1873. But this race actually has a dark past behind its unusual name.
Unlike the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, called after a state or the race's patron, the Preakness Stakes was named for a famous runner. The original Preakness was the first horse to win a big race, the featured Dinner Party Stakes, at the newly minted Pimlico Park two days after it opened on October 25, 1870.
But Preakness was equine royalty, although he was allegedly so ugly he was dubbed a "cart horse." He was bred in Kentucky at Woodburn Farm, a historic property even in the nineteenth century. Founded by Benjamin Franklin's secretary in 1790, Woodburn, run by the Alexander family, became one of the most prominent Thoroughbred operations of the time.
One of the greatest stallions of all time, the aptly named Lexington, called Woodburn home at one time. During the Civil War, Woodburn was raided for cavalry mounts, but Lexington wasn't stolen because he was already blind, leading to his nickname of "The Blind Hero of Woodburn."
It wasn't a coincidence that Preakness was a son of Lexington, his breeder's prize possession; in fact, Lexington sired three Preakness Stakes winners! The horse received his name from his eventual owner, a Mr. Sanford, a friend of the Alexander clan whose stables were based in Preakness, New Jersey. For a horse whose name became so associated with American racing, it's surprising that Preakness wound up not in Kentucky, but England, after his track career was over.
Lexington strikes a pose for the portrait painter. Image via Horse Hints.
Impressed by Preakness as a stallion prospect, thinking he'd pass on quality genes to future offspring, the Duke of Hamilton imported him to the U.K. An 1879 issue of the illustrated publication Wallace's Monthly reported that the duke thought Preakness would be a good sire of steeplechase runners; it was done because "he was judged simply as a machine, and that without testing the machine."
But nasty-tempered Preakness didn't please his new owner, who killed him; an 1880 issue of Farmer's Magazine and Kentucky Live-stock Monthly claimed that "it was the savageness of Preakness that caused the Duke of Hamilton to have him shot" at age eight in 1875. Legend has it that the British Humane Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was founded after Hamilton killed Preakness, but that's false.
Feature image via USRacing.com.