Pimlico Race Course

Two years before the Kentucky Derby was run for the first time, Pimlico introduced its new stakes race for three-year-olds, the Preakness, during its first-ever spring race meet in 1873. Then Maryland governor Oden Bowie named the then mile and one-half (2.41 km) race in honor of the colt Preakness from Milton Holbrook Sanford's Preakness Stud in Preakness, Wayne Township, New Jersey, who won the Dinner Party Stakes on the day Pimlico opened (October 25, 1870). The New Jersey name was said to have come from the Native American name Pra-qua-les ("Quail Woods") for the area. After Preakness won the Dinner Party Stakes, his jockey, Billy Hayward, untied a silk bag of gold coins that hung from a wire stretched across the track from the judges' stand. This was the supposed way that the "wire" at the finish line was introduced and how the awarding of "purse" money came to be. In reality, the term "purse", meaning prize money, had been in use for well over a century.
Sir Barton, winner in 1919

The first Preakness, held on May 27, 1873, drew seven starters. John Chamberlain's three-year-old, Survivor, collected the $2,050 winning purse by galloping home easily by 10 lengths. This was the largest margin of victory until 2004, when Smarty Jones won by 11 1/2 lengths.

In 1890 Morris Park Racecourse in the Bronx, New York hosted the Preakness Stakes. This race was run under handicap conditions, and the age restriction was lifted. The race was won by a five-year-old horse named Montague. After 1890, there was no race run for three years. For the 15 years from 1894 through 1908, the race was held at Gravesend Race Track on Coney Island, New York. In 1909 it returned to Pimlico.

Seven editions of the Preakness Stakes have been run under handicap conditions, in which more accomplished or favored horses are assigned to carry heavier weight. It was first run under these conditions in 1890 and again in the years 1910-1915. During these years, the race was known as the Preakness Handicap.

In March 2009 Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Pimlico, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy thus throwing open the possibility the Stakes could move again. On April 13, 2009, the Maryland Legislature approved a plan to buy the Stakes and the Pimlico course if Magna Entertainment cannot find a buyer.

Attendance at the Preakness Stakes ranks second in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races including the Belmont Stakes, the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Oaks. The attendance of the Preakness Stakes typically only trails the Kentucky Derby, for more information see American Thoroughbred Racing top Attended Events.

In February 2017, the Maryland Stadium Authority released the first phase of a study saying that Pimlico needed $250 million in renovations. As of May of that year, no one showed interest in financing the work. The Stronach Group, owner of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, was only interested in moving the Preakness Stakes to Laurel Park unless someone else financed work on Pimlico.

In October 2019, The Stronach Group reached an agreement in principle with the city of Baltimore and groups representing Maryland horsemen that would permanently keep the Preakness at Pimlico. As part of the agreement, Pimlico's grandstand would be demolished and replaced with a smaller structure, and temporary seating would be added to handle the attendance during Preakness week. The plan would have to be approved by the Maryland state legislature when they convene in 2020, as existing state laws would have to be modified in order for the proposal to be realized.

 

 

Despite a brief hiatus from flat racing between 1889 and 1904 - when the Preakness and Dixie were run at other tracks, and 'outlaw' race meets sprung up around Maryland Pimlico has conducted racing each year since its revival in 1904. During this interim period, steeplechase enthusiasts kept racing alive, and even became Maryland Jockey Club members upon Pimlico's re-emergence. In 1904, racing at Pimlico ignited unprecedented recognition and interest from the public and newspapers alike. Race charts appeared, quite similar to modern-day style, and for the first time Baltimore readers found the news accounts more than mere social reports.

Pimlico today welcomes race goers arriving by car, limousine, and even helicopter, as graciously as those who visited when 'Old Hilltop' was reached primarily by horse-drawn vehicle, over 130 years ago. During its rich history, the racetrack has enjoyed being the only track in the United States to be honored by the adjournment of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first and only time in history in 1877 to watch a race between Parole, Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree. The race became known as 'The Great Race,' and a reproduction of its finish is immortalized as a Pimlico trademark, adorning the clubhouse as a signal to all entering that Pimlico is a place where legends will endure forever.

En route to becoming a true national treasure, Pimlico has earned its patina of age, weathering small and major wars, recessions, depressions (including the Great Depression of the 1930's) fires, storms and the simple passage of time. Its vitality has spanned many an era, representing a time and a society now involving three centuries. More than 50 years ago, the youthful president of the Maryland Jockey Club, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, made a pertinent observation that remains today, as Pimlico moves into another century: 'Pimlico is more than a dirt track bounded by four streets. It is an accepted American institution, devoted to the best interests of a great sport, graced by time, respected for its honorable past.'

Racing in Pimlico even survived a 1910 anti-gambling movement that swept the country, prohibiting the sport everywhere, except in Maryland and Kentucky. Colonel Matt Winn of Churchill Downs is alleged to have credited Pimlico's Billy Riggs as the savior of eastern racing at this time. It was Riggs' use of the less sinful 'French Pools,' or pari-mutuel machines, in 1913 as opposed to the controversial bookmakers and their blackboards, that preserved racing at Pimlico during this turbulent time in racing. A new era was born at Pimlico, which later became the first racetrack in the country to utilize an electric starting gate.