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Will challengers go against California Chrome?

By Staff | May 9, 2014

The best thing that ever happened to Pimlico Race Course was the star-quality presence of Secretariat at its Preakness Stakes in 1973.

The worst thing that ever happened to Pimlico was when the now-fabled “Big Red” won in emphatic fashion but the track’s timer malfunctioned. For decades writers, thoroughbred racing bigwigs and even the public gave Pimlico a never-quieted stream of criticism concerning the botched handling of Secretariat’s winning time in his overpowering Preakness.

It was nearly four decades later when the blistering of its hide became so intense that Pimlico finally used modern technology and investigated its fumbling of Secretariat’s historic race.

Pimlico admitted its posting of Secretariat’s winning time had been wrong all along. So wrong in fact that it lowered the time to a Preakness record, thus giving “Big Red” another Triple Crown of sorts because he already had the best-ever times in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes– the other two “jewels” in the so-called Triple Crown of racing.

Pimlico is in Baltimore. It’s been around with its Preakness Stakes almost as long as Churchill Downs in Louisville has been staging the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, May 17, the track will hold its 139th running of its most famous (or infamous) race.

“The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans” is how the track markets the race.

Pimlico is not Churchill Downs. It is not Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

It is Pimlico, the one day-a-year site of people’s attention. On one particularly hot and muggy Preakness day, the air conditioning failed in the clubhouse. The faux grandeur had its veneer and patina removed in an ocean of sweat. Another time an apparent winner of the Preakness had to be later disqualified when his blood sample showed an illegal substance was present.

Crowds keep away from Pimlico except when the Preakness is run.

And this year will be no different. When the trash-littered infield is cleared by dusk on May 17, the track will revert to its little-attended self and Secretariat will have been gone for 41 years.

At least there is some useful history associated with the Preakness Stakes itself.

All the entries are three-year-olds. All the colts carry 126 pounds. If any fillies are entered — like Rachel Alexandra was when winning in 2009 — they carry 121 pounds.

Recent thoroughbred celebrities winning the Preakness have been Curlin, Afleet Alex and Silver Charm.

But there hasn’t been a Triple Crown champion since 1978.

Coming to Baltimore for this Preakness will be the West Coast phenom, California Chrome. An easy winner of the Kentucky Derby, the regal chestnut enters with an entourage of down-to-earth handlers. His co-owners (Steve Coburn and Perry Martin) are men with everyday jobs. California Chrome cost them only $10,000 to breed. A racetrack acquaintance told them to stay away from the business, telling them they would be “dumb asses” if they didn’t. The two men call their operation “Dumb Ass Partners” and have a lop-eared mule on the back of their silks.

California Chrome will be the odds-on betting favorite. He’s won five straight times with rider Victor Espinosa guiding his purposeful strides.

Where will his challenges come from?

Pablo Del Monte missed the Kentucky Derby. The blaze-faced chestnut has the air of a Hollywood entertainment figure and is the son of the considerable sire Giant’s Causeway. Kid Cruz won the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. His trainer is 50-year-old Linda Rice, and he could make her the first female trainer to ever win the Preakness.

Social Inclusion has only three races on his scant resume’. He was third in the Wood Memorial. Ride on Curlin was seventh in the Kentucky Derby and now has Joel Rosario as his rider instead of the now-removed Calvin Borel.

Dynamic Impact won the little-noticed Illinois Derby and has but six lifetime races. He raced five times as a maiden before finally winning. Bayern was unraced at age two. He’s had only three career races and was third in the Arkansas Derby. He has Rosie Napranik as his jockey and Bob Baffert as his trainer.

Ring Weekend is trained by Graham Motion at Fair Hill in Maryland. He won on his fifth try as a maiden. His last race was a second-place in the Calder (Florida) Derby.

Ria Antonio could be entered, but the filly was only sixth in the Kentucky Oaks and shows only two wins in her eight lifetime races.

It’s nearly Preakness time at Pimlico.

Come on over to “Old Hilltop” and pay $50 to park a half-mile away and $350 for parking privileges closer to the clubhouse and grandstand.

It’s a one-day stand. And even Secretariat got out of town quicker than it took the track’s guardians to throw off the stench associated with their handling of his record time.