Preakness Stakes History: How it Started

In 1973 – two years before the first Kentucky Derby – Pimlico outside of Baltimore, Maryland, ran a stakes race for 3-year-olds during its first-ever spring race meet. Then governor Oden Bowie named the race, which was set at a distance of 1 ½ miles, in honor of a horse named Preakness who was bred by Milton Holbrook Sanford’s Preakness Stud in Preakness, Wayne Township, New Jersey. Preakness himself won the Dinner Party Stakes on the first day of racing at Pimlico when it opened in 1870.

The Origin and Early History of the Preakness Stakes

The first Preakness Stakes was held on May 27, 1873, and drew just seven runners. Survivor captured the inaugural edition by ten lengths, which was the largest margin earned $2,050 for the victory.

The name Preakness was said to have come from the Native American name “Pra-qua-les” or “Quail Woods” for the area in New Jersey where the farm was located.

Preakness Stakes: Evolution of Traditions and Historic Venues

Another legend tied to the Preakness and the actual horse it’s named for involves the horse’s jockey. After the win in the Dinner Party Stakes, jockey Billy Hayward is said to have untied a silk bag of gold coins that hung from a wire stretched across the track from the judges’ stand. This is alleged to be where the term “wire” was used to indicate the finish line and how the money horses earned were called “purses” though the actual term “purse” had been in use long before the first Preakness.

In 1890 Morris Park Racecourse in the Bronx in New York hosted the Preakness Stakes and the race was opened to ages three up and was run under handicap conditions. The race was won by a 5-year-old horse named Montague and after that year, no Preakness was contested for three years. From 1894 through 1908, the Preakness was held at Gravesend Race Track on Coney Island, and In 1909 it returned to Pimlico.

Seven editions of the Preakness Stakes have been run under handicap conditions beginning in 1890 and again from 1910 to 1915. During these years, the race was known as the Preakness Handicap.

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