Derby, Derby, Derby: The Preakness as Middle Child
In what has been a slipshod year for horse racing, the Preakness is just the latest event in the sport with controversy at its core.
Updated: May 16, 2019 • 5:55 PM ET
Winning the Preakness Stakes can change any jockey's career.
From the Desk of Dr. T. Bred:
Summary Patient Notes: 5/16/2019
This year, more than ever, the Preakness has exhibited some of the most common characteristics associated with what has become known as “middle child syndrome.” These include, but are not bound by, low self-esteem (no Derby winner), jealousy (lackluster field), feelings of emptiness or inadequacy (Pimlico faces closure), unfriendliness (steward anonymity) and a tendency to be introverted (stewards are nowadays, apparently). In general, middle children tend to feel that they are unseen, so they may suffer from filial neglect or dysfunctional behavior.
For the first time since the 1990s, the Kentucky Derby winner will not run in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, aka the second leg of the Triple Crown. Since this is the case, how should we think about this Saturday in Baltimore?
Should we look at this as a new beginning for horse racing; dare we say, the dawn of a new era? Conversely, without a marquee, does this make the 144th running at Pimlico Race Course a non-starter?
The Preakness might feel more like the Jan Brady of horse racing. It’s stuck between the Derby and Belmont; what a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung called the “middle child syndrome.”
This year feels especially odd, because there’s no prohibitive favorite. In the recent past, California Chrome, American Pharaoh, Nyquist and of course, Justify, all entered the Preakness riding the wave of expectation. Above the ruckus of the crowd, there was hope.
Preakness 144 feels different, because it is. Usually, it’s the Belmont whose attendance suffers when a Triple Crown isn’t at stake; but, the NYRA is different because they command the power of the purse to put together an amazing card from top to bottom whether history is on the line or not.
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After the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) disqualified Maximum Security as the latest Kentucky Derby champion and replaced him with Country House, it seemed the very foundations of the sport in North America were shaken. Everyone from announcers on TVG, to the Jockey Club of America, to the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, have made their pitches to change what seems to be an unchangeable situation.
The Jockey Club of America issued the results of a complex survey that yielded, of all conclusions, that people were most concerned with horse fatalities — really? On top of these points, to add insult to injury, the KHRC went even further this past week when they suspended the offending jockey of Maximum Security, Luis Saez, with what I believe was an unfounded punishment. His vilification continues.
Now the scene shifts to an even more complicated situation at Pimlico; a historically significant track located in Baltimore that is facing extinction.
Let’s try to diagnose the Preakness’ “middle child” to understand the direction that horse racing is headed in 2019.
First, this year’s edition of the Preakness has a Bob Baffert horse, but that won’t assist in replacing a Derby champion. The race feels rather like a second team because of this; no offense to the connections, but it’s true.
The Preakness anchors the halfway point of the Triple Crown season. Fans love to see a champ go down, and even more so, one that triumphs. That makes this year very odd indeed.
So, there’s currently this cloud over racing, especially after what transpired this spring at Santa Anita and beyond. Drawing a line through 2019 won’t do either, and I take issue with those that believe it’s just easier to move forward. History does not work that way.
People have memories; and the issues currently plaguing the sport will either be solved with the creation of a centralized horse racing authority with true power, or they won’t be settled. Like the middle child, self-esteem is a major factor in propagating new fans.
Maybe all we can hope for is a competitive and clean race, but even that may not be enough.
Thus, a lackluster field (only four Derby horses will run) is being assembled for this edition of the Preakness. Somehow, War of Will, the Mark Casse-trained horse that was involved in the Derby infraction, drew the 1 hole again — irony?
Remember, the older sibling sets the tone. The Kentucky Derby was a sour one this year, no matter how you spin it. It’s like the calculus teacher who got the rebellious and willful older sister/brother, and now the middle child is tagged with that record even before the semester begins. How can they succeed after that?
I’m not saying there aren’t storylines that NBC will try to capitalize on (they will miss some, rest assured). One bright spot might be that red-hot trainer Brad Cox has two entries on Saturday. Maybe a first- and second-place finish for his charges would boost him even further into the stratosphere. We shall see.
I agree to a certain extent that any press is good press; but in this case, it might not be.
Feelings of Emptiness
As the middle child, the Preakness is once again being hosted by the beleaguered Pimlico Race Course, a place that continues to be at the center of controversy. Some want to hold on to the past (City of Baltimore) because the revenue stream is important and the race itself is seen as hugely symbolic. It’s the home of the Preakness, as the sign says.
Others, including the powerful yet plagued by infighting Stronach Group, want the race moved to the more modern Laurel Park, which is located outside the city center. The Stronach Family has poured all kinds of cash into the facility, and they want to see it take over the Preakness.
However, though Pimlico is steeped in history, the facility is inadequate (one year, latrines overflowed and flooded the place in a prophetic display of what was to come) and needs a makeover — memories of the Brady Bunch headgear episode?
But, the real problem for the Maryland Jockey Club is this truncated season; it runs the risk of becoming a purely ceremonial track. Even Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, Fenway Park in Boston and Wimbledon’s Centre Court had to alter policies and plans or face extinction.
Our middle child needs some new clothes. The days of shopping every year at the thrift store and going to job interviews in torn jeans are over. It may be time for some new threads, since parachute pants aren’t coming back (praise be).
Possibly the most unpredictable aspect for our middle child will be the reaction at the conclusion of the race by the stewards, whose identities are currently under wraps. Much maligned in Kentucky, the Maryland crew will be heavily scrutinized if they’re called into action.
Will one or more of the jockeys in the race test them, lodging a well-placed objection? The possibility exists to test their mettle.
Like parents, the stewards have the ability to allow their offspring to grow and run, or ground them from all privileges. Which course of action will they take? They could turn the tide and incite even more controversy. We shall see what type of decision they’ll render.
As we’ve seen from this metaphor, the Preakness will play the role of a middle child. Caught in the middle of a dysfunctional family of races, the actions set in motion this year in horse racing have placed this race in a unique position that can move in several directions.
We can hear the altered Jan Brady-esque moniker, “Derby, Derby, Derby,” as the Preakness bemoans the fact that events in Kentucky placed them in this predicament.
Maybe, all we can hope for is that our middle child will grow up in spite of the situation? Who knows if this will be the last Preakness at Pimlico before the condos march in, or whether the stewards will be forced to clumsily act as they did in Louisville on Derby Day?
I know I’m ready for a new beginning.
In the meantime, is it time for Belmont yet?