Two years before the Kentucky Derby would appear, Pimlico was busy introducing its new stakes race for three-year olds, the Preakness, during its first-ever spring race meet in 1873. Governor Bowie had named the mile and one-half race in honor of Dinner Party Stakes - winner, Preakness. The scene was set for the first Preakness Stakes on Tuesday, May 27, a warm and muggy spring day at Pimlico. The crowd, well aware of Bowie's accomplishments in putting Baltimore on the national Thoroughbred map, swelled to 12,000. The violet-painted stands and the Victorian Clubhouse, which survived until a fire destroyed it in 1966, were decorated with the Maryland Jockey Club blue and white pennants. Entertainment was provided by Itzel's Fifth Regiment Band, which played operatic airs from Martha and Il Trovatore, and popular tunes of the day. The first Preakness drew seven starters, but it was John Chamberlain's three-year old, Survivor, who galloped home easily by ten lengths to a purse of $2,050 to this day, the largest Preakness margin of victory.
The new Preakness, off to a great start, prospered for the next 17 years. The early Preakness Stakes attracted quality horses and good crowds; however, in 1889, due to changes in the racing industry, the Preakness and Pimlico galloped to a halt. In 1890, the Preakness was run at Morris Park in New York. The Maryland Jockey Club continued to be involved in racing by presenting some steeplechasing and even trotting races at Pimlico, but the Preakness did not return home to Pimlico until 1909. During this interval, the Preakness was run for 15 years at the Gravesend track in Brooklyn, New York. These 15 so-called "lost" Preaknesses were officially enrolled in the race history of the classic in 1948; the 1890 Preakness was added in the 1960's.
Several traditions enjoyed today are attributed to the spontaneity of the 1909 Preakness renewal. For example, the musical rendering of "Maryland My Maryland" began when a bugler, moved by the spirit of the day, began playing Maryland's historic state song. The rest of the band, inspired by the music, joined in and the crowd reacted enthusiastically. In addition, Preakness 1909 also inaugurated the concept of the "painting of the colors" atop the weather vane, to honor the winning horse. From that day in 1909, the Preakness has run without a break each year at Pimlico, steadily growing in popularity and purse value. It was once said that having the Preakness in Baltimore is like being able to schedule the World Series or Super Bowl every year.
Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., who built Churchill Downs in Louisville, wanted his track to have a race that would rival England's Epsom Derby. After visiting England to study both its tracks and its races, he established the Kentucky Derby, which was first run on May 17, 1875. However, the Derby was just another regional race until 1902, when Colonel Matt J. Winn took over the track. Although he had seen every Kentucky Derby since the beginning, Winn knew little about horse racing or running tracks. But he was a very good promoter. After raising money to save Churchill Downs from bankruptcy, Winn began making frequent trips to New York, then the center of American racing, to persuade owners to enter their horses in the Kentucky Derby. His persistence paid off. By 1920, the Derby had become the best-known race in North America and it was attracting the top three-year-olds from all over the country.
The Preakness Stakes has remained throughout history a true test of a horse's ability and class, a race where remarkable horses meet one another other in a great classic. The phrase "Triple Crown" was not coined until the 1930's, but it is this race on the third Saturday in May where the best of the Derby horses gather to see if there will be that window of opportunity for a Triple Crown prospect. Much goes on during this colorful time at Pimlico, but it has always been the horse that draws the fans. As poet Ogden Nash wrote: "The Derby is a race of aristocratic sleekness, for horses of birth to prove their worth to run in the Preakness."