Middle Race Syndrome

Child Psychologists will tell you that there is absolutely such a thing as the “Middle Child Syndrome.”  That’s the malady befalling middle children who feel excluded as the oldest child tends to get all the privileges, while the baby of the family gets just about anything he or she wants.   I have no idea if this is true or not, but psychologists swear it’s true.  But, I can tell you that it appears the middle race of horse racing’s triple crown suffers from something similar.

For the 143rd time this Saturday, Maryland will host the Preakness Stakes, the middle race of the three race Triple Crown Series. Let’s be honest here, most people don’t pay attention to horse racing any more than three times per year anyway so as a general rule even the most casual of horse racing fan knows the Preakness.

Just as certain events are important to their areas like the Indianapolis 500 is to Indiana and the Kentucky Derby is to Kentucky, the Preakness is a celebration of the State of Maryland and its rich horse racing tradition.  At the same time, the race struggles with its current home and while the Kentucky Derby warranted a full five hours of coverage on NBC, the Preakness gets just two hours.

The Preakness is run at the aging Pimlico Race Course tucked in a neighborhood of Baltimore row houses.   I have a friend who years ago while living in Baltimore owned a horse that raced at Pimlico and these are his words, not mine, the track is in a “awful” neighborhood.  Again, I don’t have any knowledge of that as I’ve never been there so I’ll have to take his word.

Pimlico got its name from English settlers who named that area of Baltimore “Pimlico” after Olde Ben Pimlico’s Tavern in London, England.  It’s only appropriate that Pimlico got its name from something involving alcohol because – particular during the Preakness – Pimlico has been known for its infield full of drunks.

Crowds in excess of 100,000 people have packed the infield over the years for some good old fashioned debauchery and decadence.  The infield was always general admission and until 2009 those who had infield tickets could bring their own booze.  The result was a predictable infield full of intoxicated patrons who likely had no idea that there was even a major Grade-1 stakes race being run that day.

Pimlico ended the BYOB policy in 2009 after NBC cameras caught several people running on the tops of portable toilets while those below hurled beer cans at them.  Now they’ll still be people running on the tops of portable toilets this week, but Pimlico has tried to reign in the atmosphere by offering entertainment in what they call the “Budweiser Infield Fest.”  This is the festival’s 10th year.  Visitors now must pay $100.00 to not see a single second of racing while being “entertained” by groups I’ve never heard of.  Granted I’m not a big music guy, but this week the “Infield Fest” will feature Post Malone, 21 Savage, Odessa and some band named Frank Walker and Vice.  Someone may be able to tell me who those groups are, but you have to figure if you are playing Pimlico on Preakness Saturday your music career is probably not taking flight.

As for the race itself, well the “middle child” is being largely ignored.  At the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, a full field of 20 horses ran.  The Preakness has just 8 horses running on Saturday.  The Derby winner Justify is obviously in the field as he seeks to win the Triple Crown.  He’s joined by Derby Runner-up Good Magic, Bravazo who finished 6th in Kentucky, and Lone Sailor who finished 8th.  Those are the only 4 Kentucky Derby Horses running this week.  They are joined by Quip, who didn’t have enough earnings to qualify to race in Kentucky, Tenfold who didn’t race at the Derby and didn’t race as a two-year old, Sporting Chance who finished 3rd in a Kentucky Derby under card the Pat Day mile at Churchill Downs, and a local horse named Diamond King who qualified for the Preakness by winning at Maryland’s Laurel Park in April.  They’ll run 1 and 3/16 miles in a little under two minutes.

The Preakness – which first ran in 1873 – was named after a former winning horse at Pimlico named….wait for it: “Preakness”.  It has its own traditions like the blanket of Black Eyed Susan Flowers (The State Flower of Maryland) to the winner, the colors of the winner being painted immediately on the iconic weather vane, and the United States Naval Academy Glee Club leading the crowd in the singing of “Maryland, My Maryland.”

But, the race also seems cursed in some ways.  Pimlico hasn’t kept up with the times and in 2017 the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a study which said that the track needed some $250 million dollars in renovations.  No one has stepped up to finance the makeover and it certainly appears that Pimlico’s owner isn’t interested.

The track is owned by the Stonach Group which is American’s largest gambling and thoroughbred horse racing company.  They didn’t get that way by making bad business decisions and renovating Pimlico to them is a bad business decision.  Stonach bought the track out of former owner Magna Entertainment’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.  The Company also owns much more modern Laurel Park in Maryland and it’s no secret they’d love to move the Preakness out of Baltimore and to that facility.   The rub is with the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico.  The Club – founded 30 years before the Revolutionary War wants nothing to do with moving the race regardless of whether Pimlico is falling down.  So, the Preakness is once again the middle piece in a battle between a large company interested in profits and the Maryland Jockey Club which is interested in preserving history and tradition.

This Saturday somewhere close to 7 o’clock, the “middle child” will go on as scheduled rain or shine.  Maryland will celebrate its horse racing tradition, the infield will have it’s usual party and the winner will get the Woodlawn Vase Trophy reportedly the richest trophy in the world.  Then Pimlico will be ignored until the third Saturday in May next year when once again the “middle child” seeks attention that just won’t be coming.

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