By Peter Lee
For much of its history, the Preakness Stakes has been anticlimactic, with the victor romping by large margins. The first winner, Survivor, won by 10 lengths, a record broken by Smarty Jones in 2004 when he won by 11 1/2 lengths. The year before, Funny Cide had dominated the field en route to a 9 3/4 length victory. Hansel took the 1991 race by seven lengths. Buddhist and Count Fleet each won by eight lengths.
But there have been some thrilling moments in the 145 years of the Preakness. Some horses undertook Herculean efforts to win. Other races featured exciting stretch battles to determine the winner.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 most exciting Preakness Stakes races:
Display, described by the Frederick, Md. News as “a rank outsider” in the betting, was a 19-1 longshot going into the Preakness. And he looked like one for most of the race. At one point he was in 11th place, 10 lengths behind the leader, Rock Man. But he and another straggler, Blondin, made their moves around the far turn, and in the homestretch, Display took the lead. Blondin was a head behind.
The two fought each other down the stretch, neck and neck, but Display managed to win by a head. Blondin was second, and Mars was one length back.
Burgoo King (1932)
Burgoo King, the surprise winner of the Kentucky Derby, was only the second choice in betting for the Preakness. The colt was bumped at the beginning of the race and stayed in the back of the pack for a good part of it. He managed to get back on track and was in position to take the lead with three furlongs to go.
He passed Tick On in the far turn, but couldn’t catch Boatswain. who remained in the lead. But Burgoo King pursued the leader relentlessly. In the final 70 yards, Burgoo King finally pulled alongside Boatswain. Tick On found another gear and joined the leaders at the wire for a three-way photo finish. Burgoo King won by a head, with Tick On closing fast for second.
Native Dancer (1953)
People were shocked by the Gray Ghost’s upset in the Kentucky Derby to Dark Star but thought it was a fluke. They sent the champion to the Preakness a week after his victory in the Withers Stakes as a 1-5 favorite.Dark Star started fast again, but Native Dancer stayed close to him, and this time the leader gave way to the gray colt. He seemed to have an easy path toward victory.
But here came Jamie K., a 16-1 longshot who caught up with Native Dancer and made it a race with a furlong to go. The two ran as one down the homestretch, with horrified fans looking on, thinking Native Dancer would blow another big race. But the Hall of Fame horse did not disappoint, holding off Jamie K. by a neck. The two would repeat the same scene at the Belmont three weeks later, with the same results – a victory by a neck.
Greek Money (1962)
Ridan was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby but finished a disappointing third to Decidedly. He was looking for revenge in the Preakness, and Jaipur, another excellent colt, was coming down from New York to challenge him.
Jaipur led for the first half of the race, but Ridan took the lead after Jaipur abruptly ran out of gas. Heading into the homestretch, Greek Money, Roman Line and Sunrise County were stalking Ridan a half-length behind. It turned into a two-horse race as Greek Money poked his head in front of Ridan at the furlong pole. Ridan fought back but ran out of room at the end. He was beaten by a nose at the finish as Greek Money desperately held on for the victory. Decidedly finished eighth, Jaipur 10th.
Greek Money had to survive the first foul claim ever against the winner of a Preakness. Ridan’s jockey, Manuel Ycaza, claimed that Greek Money interfered with his horse during the furious stretch run. But his claim backfired when stewards ruled against him and recommended that Ycaza be suspended for making “frivolous claims” and “unfair riding tactics.”
The great Secretariat’s Preakness win was never in any real danger; it was the way he won it that was so incredible. Off to his usual slow, lumbering start, Secretariat was five lengths off the pace entering the clubhouse turn. Jockey Ron Turcotte then made a bold, unbelievable move toward the front on the first turn. In seconds the big red horse overtook the field and had a two-length advantage.
Such a move that early in the race was unheard of, but Secretariat took over the slow race and made it look easy. He held off Sham to finish in what would eventually become a stakes record. He holds all three Triple Crown records.
Affirmed had held off a late challenge by the favorite, Alydar, in the Kentucky Derby, and fans were looking for another great race in the Preakness. They were not disappointed. Affirmed took the lead on the far turn, but entering the stretch, Alydar galloped furiously down the track, coming to within a neck of Affirmed.
That’s as close as he would get, though, as Affirmed continued to fight him off, maintaining that margin all the way to the wire. And as we all know, the Belmont would be even closer.
Sunday Silence (1989)
Nine years later, history repeated itself with another great stretch run between two rivals. Sunday Silence had held off a charging favorite, Easy Goer, in the Derby. Two weeks later in the Preakness, Sunday Silence took the lead from a tiring Houston in the far turn, but Easy Goer came at him again, this time earlier.
The two rivals were inches apart as their jockeys furiously tried to gain an advantage. Easy Goer started nosing away with 100 yards to go. Sunday Silence fought back, though, and the two were in a dead heat approaching the finish line. Sunday Silence somehow put a nose in front at the finish. The margin of victory was maybe six inches.
Silver Charm (1997)
Silver Charm was the second choice entering the 1997 Kentucky Derby but surprised everyone with a victory over the favorite, Captain Bodgit, by a head. It still didn’t make him the Preakness favorite. He was third choice in the betting for the Preakness. The gray horse stayed close for most of the race but trailed Free House by a length at the furlong pole, with Touch Gold another half-length behind.
But Silver Charm kept fighting, inching his way toward Free House until he caught him with 40 yards to go. By that time, Captain Bodgit was making a mad charge toward the finish, and as they reached the wire, it was a photo finish. Silver Charm won by a head over Free House, who was a head in front of Captain Bodgit.
Touch Gold, who would get his revenge and steal a Triple Crown away from Silver Charm in the Belmont, finished another length back.
Afleet Alex (2005)
Like Secretariat, Afleet Alex’s victory at the wire was comfortable, almost laughable. But it was what happened earlier in the race that made it amazing.
The third-place finisher in the Derby languished early in 10th place until he made an aggressive move around the far turn. He drew even with leader Scrappy T and looked as if the race was his, but jockey Ramon Dominguez hit Scrappy T with a left-handed whip, and the colt veered toward the right, into Afleet Alex’s path, and clipped heels with him.
The colt went down to his knees, and his nose missed touching the ground by inches. Jockey Jeremy Rose pulled him back up and started moving Afleet Alex back over to the rail. The colt responded like a bullet, catching Scrappy T again at the furlong pole and rushing to a 4 3/4-length victory. It was a perfect example of snatching victory away from a near-disaster.
I’ll Have Another (2012)
I’ll Have Another was a disregarded 12-1 shot entering the Kentucky Derby but shocked fans with a 1 1/2 length win over favored Bodemeister. The two were looking to renew their rivalry at Pimlico, and they didn’t disappoint. Bodemeister took the early lead and had a three-length advantage at the furlong pole.
I’ll Have Another started closing inch by inch, caught Bodemeister with about 40 yards to go, and went under the wire a neck in front. According to Richard Sowers, author of The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes: A Comprehensive History, the colt was only the second Derby winner to make up a three-length deficit in the final furlong of the Preakness.
Photo Credit: Native Dancer. Courtesy Keeneland Library Morgan Collection.