Although many important stakes races are named after horses from the past, only one of the three Triple Crown races is named in honor of a horse. That is the Preakness Stakes, named for a colt called Preakness who played a major role in the early history of Pimlico Race Course.
As the story goes, the idea for creating a new stakes race — which would be held at a then-non-existent track in Baltimore, Md. — was conceived in 1868 during a dinner party in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The race, which would be fittingly known as the “Dinner Party Stakes,” would be held two years later in 1870, once a racetrack had been constructed.
To put it simply, the race proved popular. As described by William H. P. Robertson in his book “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America”:
“Originally there were only seven subscribers, but the idea caught on so well that the Dinner Party Stakes … had attracted 30 nominations by the time it closed in October. In fact, so intrigued were the participants that betting was opened on the race a week later, slightly more than two years before post time.”
Pimlico opened for business on Oct. 25, 1870, and the Dinner Party Stakes was the third race of the day. The race was described as a “dash of two miles” in the Oct. 26, 1870 edition of the Baltimore Sun; in this day and age, it’s hard to imagine a two-mile race being referred to as a dash! Eight horses started, including an unraced colt named Preakness, owned by Milton H. Sanford. Halfway through the race, Preakness had taken the lead and, despite a stiff challenge from the filly Ecliptic in the final half-mile, Preakness pulled away at the end to win.
While the Dinner Party Stakes would mark Preakness’ most memorable victory, he raced on for many years and was eventually sent to England, where he raced with some success and stayed to serve as a stallion. In 1873, the Maryland Jockey Club decided to inaugurate a new stakes race to be held in the spring at Pimlico, and the name they chose for the race was the Preakness Stakes, honoring the winner of Pimlico’s first major race.
On a related note, the Dinner Party Stakes lives on at Pimlico; it is now $250,000 Grade 2 Longines Dixie Stakes and is the race held immediately prior to the Preakness every year.
Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming races named for racing legends …
The great mare Gallorette didn’t run against fellow fillies and mares very often. Why would she? For the most part, there was more money to be made running against males in historic races like the Metropolitan and Whitney Handicaps. Plus, she beat males with regularity.
During a Hall of Fame career that spanned from 1944 through 1948, Gallorette ran in 72 races, with all but 17 coming against males and the vast majority of them being major stakes races. After some successful forays against fillies during her 3-year-old year — she won the Acorn Stakes, Pimlico Oaks, and Delaware Oaks in succession — Gallorette dove into the big leagues during a time when legends like Stymie, Armed, and Assault were in action. She more than held her own.
A brief look at some of her biggest victories paints a stunning picture of her talent:
- She won the 1945 Empire City Stakes, defeating that year’s Belmont Stakes winner Pavot;
- She won the 1946 Metropolitan Handicap;
- She won the 1946 Brooklyn Handicap, defeating Stymie;
- She won the 1946 Bay Shore Handicap, defeating 1945 Preakness Stakes winner Polynesian;
- She won the 1947 Queens County Handicap, again defeating Stymie; and
- She won the 1948 Carter, Wilson, and Whitney Handicaps.
Gallorette’s remarkable success against males earned her a reputation as one of the finest race mares ever seen on the American turf. In a poll of members of the American Trainers Association (conducted by Delaware Park and subsequently published in the “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America”), Gallorette was ranked by a wide margin as the greatest racemare ever seen in the United States.
Few horses have ever shown more durability at the highest levels of racing than Kona Gold. Despite getting a late start as a racehorse (he didn’t debut until he was 4 years old), Kona Gold made up for lost time by competing with astonishing success in top-level sprint races from 1998 through 2003. At the peak of his powers, he won seven straight graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2000; he actually ran in five straight editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, finishing second in 1999 and third in 1998. Even at nine years old, he was still fast enough to win a graded stakes race!
Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes at Pimlico Race Course
Born as James Kenneth McManus but widely known by his television name, Jim McKay was a legendary TV sports commentator, serving as the host of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” from 1961 until 1998. While McKay covered a wide variety of sporting events, including the Olympic Games, his strongest passion was for horse racing. McKay was an owner and breeder in Maryland and helped create the Maryland Million, a series of races for Maryland-bred horses inaugurated in 1986. After McKay passed away in 2008, Pimlico renamed the Baltimore City Turf Sprint to honor McKay; in addition, the Maryland Million program was renamed the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day.
Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico Race Course
Charles John “Chick” Lang came from a racing family — his father and great-grandfather were Kentucky Derby-winning jockeys —and was involved in the sport virtually his entire life.
As general manager of Pimlico from 1960 through 1987, Lang was a tireless promoter of the Preakness Stakes and helped the race draw bigger crowds and rise to greater prominence; he was even given the nickname “Mr. Preakness.”
Prior to his days at Pimlico, Chick Lang worked as an agent for the Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack, a five-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. When Lang passed away in 2010, Pimlico renamed the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes in his honor.
Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico Race Course
When an unheralded horse named Sir Barton lined up to compete in the 1919 Kentucky Derby, few people expected a winning performance. After all, he was viewed as a pacemaker for his more accomplished stablemate, Billy Kelly, and Sir Barton had yet to win a single race.
But when Sir Barton went to the lead and cruised to a decisive five-length victory, everything changed. One month later, he had rattled off four consecutive wins, including victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes; although no one knew it at the time, Sir Barton had quietly completed the first-ever sweep of the Triple Crown.
That wouldn’t be his only accomplishment of note. Despite being hampered by hoof issues, the future Hall of Famer went on to be an accomplished older horse, with one of his biggest wins coming in the 1920 Saratoga Handicap, in which he beat fellow Hall of Famer Exterminator by two lengths while setting a Saratoga track record of 2:01 4/5 for 1 ¼ miles.