May 14, 2008

Preakness Traditions.

When I lived in the UK, I was dispondent about missing the Preakness for the first time in my life. It wasn't on television there, and the race would be at 11:00 p.m. local time. I e-mailed the owners of Pimlico to see if the race would be broadcast on the internet or via a live feed. They told me it wouldn't be available until later, but kindly gave me a URL and a code, so I could watch the network feed. I will always be grateful for that small kindness. I did wander down to the local betting shop to put a £5.00 bet on the favourite, but I lost.
The Preakness Stakes is the second jewel in the Triple Crown. Last year, Curlin won the race, but this year, the race will not be as exciting. Unfortunately, Big Brown is the only horse from the Kentucky Derby that will be racing.
The trophy that the horses at Pimlico Racecourse are vying for is the famous Woodlawn Vase, possibly the most valuable trophy in any sport. The vase was made by Tiffany & Co. in 1860. It stands 34 inches tall and weighs nearly 30 pounds. It is on permanent display at the Maryland Historical Society, and is brought to Pimlico under guard for Preakness. It is worth in excess of $1 million. A smaller replica of the vase is presented to the winner of the Preakness and that's worth about $30,000.
One of the traditions of the Preakness is for the winning horse to be covered by a blanket of Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Maryland's state flower. Maryland's colours are red, white, black and yellow, Black Eyed Susans have 13 petals, and Maryland was one of the 13 original colonies, so... If you know anything about these flowers, you know that they bloom in the summer. So, the florist who makes the blanket colours the "eyes" of the yellow daisies with a brown or black marker. The blanket is 18 inches wide and 90 inches long.

Another tradition is painting the winning stable's silks on the jockey on the weathervane on the old Pimlico barn. As soon as the race is over and a winner is declared, the painter begins working on the weathervane. It's not often that a sign painter is shown on national television!

Maryland, My Maryland, our state song is not nearly as well-known as "My Old Kentucky Home", but it shares the same pre-Civil War sentiments. Its tune is the same as "O Tannenbaum", the Christmas carol. It is sung at the Preakness by the US Naval Academy's Men's Glee Club. Fortunately, they only sing the third verse of nine, because the first two are pretty awful and the song does go on for quite a bit. Here are the first three verses:

Verse 1
The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Verse 2

Hark to an exiled son's appeal, Maryland!
My mother State! to thee I kneel, Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird they beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Verse 3

Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust, Maryland!
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Cheery little tune, no?


  1. The preakness is such a big deal in this part of the country! Growing up I had never heard of it -we missed out on all the fun! It's a great tradition and so great that people rally about such a traditional sport - I love the history of it! Thanks for sharing some of its history!

  2. So interesting. Enjoyed this historically detailed post!

  3. Love learning more about the trophy Meg.

  4. All I can think about is that poor horse they had to put down a few weeks ago. So sad! I really know nothing about horse racing. You are so lucky to be part of that wonderful tradition.


  5. I love this post. Aren't the graphics great on that poster? I didn't know the winner got a replica trophy. "Here's your FAKE trophy." Yanno...yes I do know that Black-Eyed Susans bloom in mid to late summer...into frost, really, but don't you think some greenhouse...somewhere could get some going and force them along for this need? Maryland has the best State flag, in my opinion. Very...heraldic.

  6. so very interesting to read...I would love to see the painting of the weathervane...awesome tradition!

  7. WC - Maryland's state flag is the only one that is actually a "flag" with the elements that make up a flag. All of the other states have banners.

    Tea - if you watch the race on TV, they usually show the painter.

  8. Didn't Big Brown win? Does that put him in the running for the triple crown? A little out of the loop, but I do love the races.


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