It’s dubbed the “middle jewel”, the second-leg of the prestigious Triple Crown where dreams of a rare treble are made.
Except there will be no dreaming for two of US horse racing’s leading protagonists — Country House and Maximum Security — at Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
After one of the most controversial races in American racing history, Kentucky Derby winner Country House will not feature at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Trainer Bill Mott has ruled him out on medical grounds.
The dust still hasn’t settled on the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby — which even caused US President Donald Trump to weigh into the debate.
It all began when Maximum Security, who led the Derby from wire to wire and crossed the finish line 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Country House, was disqualified for interference while turning for home.
Officials decided that Maximum Security impacted the progress of War of Will, which in turn interfered with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.
Second-placed Country House was subsequently awarded the victory instead.
The owners of Maximum Security have since filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to overturn the disqualification, but the horse remains unable to compete at this weekend’s showpiece.
Weather vanes and daisy blankets
Despite the absence of Country House and Maximum Security, there is still a strong field scheduled to compete in the 144th edition of the race.
Whoever wins will be etched into an illustrious history which dates back to the very first running of the race at Pimlico in 1873.
Such an established history comes with its own set of unique traditions, including the iconic blanket of yellow daisies which is draped over the winner at the finish line.
The yellow and black flowers, dubbed “Black-Eyed Susans”, represent the colors of Maryland and the State is also honored with the traditional singing of “Maryland, My Maryland”.
Whoever is crowned champion on Saturday will also receive a special honor as they return to the grandstand, with the winning jockey’s colors being painted on the track’s iconic weather vane.
Recording the second highest average attendance in American horse racing — behind only the Kentucky Derby — the event is a chance for spectators to stand out.
Much like the Derby, fans dress to impress and celebrities flock to catch a piece of the action.
Such an illustrious event also needs a fitting trophy and the Preakness doesn’t disappoint in that department either.
In fact, the trophy is so precious, the winner is only given a smaller replica whilst the original is kept under guard.
The 1,900-metre flat race has crowned many a champion in the past but none more historic than wonder horse Secretariat. “Big Red” still holds the track record today with a time of 1 minute, 53 seconds which he set in 1973.
Meanwhile, Bob Baffert is the race’s joint most successful trainer, securing his seventh Preakness Stakes when Justify crossed the line last year on his way to the Triple Crown. He is now level with Robert Wyndham Walden, who had his last success in 1888.
In the of absence Country House and Maximum Security, Baffert has a strong chance of claiming a record eighth Preakness victory.
He trains Improbable, who is currently the bookmakers’ favorite for this year’s race ahead of War of Will — one of the horses impeded during the Derby.
If the Kentucky Derby is anything to go by, this year’s Preakness Stakes should not be missed.