Miss Marissa
Miss Marissa held off Bonny South to win the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Photo by Allison Janezic.

No question that the 2020 Preakness weekend was something entirely different: in the fall, with no fans, with the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness on the same card, in the midst of a pandemic.

The differences were easy to identify, and even easier to grouse about at first. But then the racing began, and the horses and riders put on a show that erased all those troubles.

Our picks for the top races of the weekend:

5) Pimlico Special

Preakness Friday last year was, let’s face it, odd. No fans. No festivities. No Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. What there was was racing, including the latest edition of the great, historic Pimlico Special. This race doesn’t have quite the cache it once did, but it did attract multiple graded winner Owendale, who went off the 7-10 favorite. He and local hopeful Harpers First Ride – Maryland-bred, by Sagamore Farm, and Maryland-based, in the barn of Claudio Gonzalez, engaged in a long duel, swapping the lead back and forth throughout. In the final furlong, Harpers First Ride inched away to a two-length win under jockey Angel Cruz, who earned his first graded stakes win in four years and showed plenty of emotion afterwards – a good win for the locals.

4) The Very One

The turf was yielding all weekend and seemed to reward horses on or near the lead. None of that bothered A Great Time, however. The Maryland-bred Street Magician mare trained by Mike Trombetta was 11th of 12 early in the five-furlong test, and she was still eighth leaving the furlong grounds. No matter: once jockey Julian Pimentel got her outside, she came absolutely flying home to win by a length for her first stakes win. It might have been the most visually arresting performance of the weekend.

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3) Black-Eyed Susan

It wasn’t easy to close on Pimlico’s main track, either, with inside speed seeming to hold the advantage. So when 4-5 post time favorite Bonny South broke awkwardly, got pinched back, and found herself dawdling along in 10th – last – place in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, you had to think she had no shot. But jockey Florent Geroux stayed patient, his filly gained momentum, and when tipped out for running room, exploded through the lane. She made up seven lengths in the last eighth of a mile – which proved to be a neck shy of what she needed, as Miss Marissa, with Daniel Centeno up, narrowly held on to win a thriller.

2) Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

It’s been a bit of a struggle in recent years for the De Francis, once a champion-making race, to recapture its spot, and while the 2020 edition, moved onto the Preakness undercard, may not change that, it was as exciting a horse race as you’re likely see. When the dust had settled, the two local horses had run one-two in a race in which the top three were all within a head of each other. The Damon Dilodovico-trained Laki, then a seven-year-old, earned the victory over the late charge of Eastern Bay. Horacio Karamanos was aboard the Maryland-bred winner, a son of Cuba.

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1) Preakness Stakes

A filly wins the Preakness. The Kentucky Derby winner and, later, Horse of the Year is defeated by a neck after a long battle. The time is second fastest in Preakness history. Put it all together, and you have the race of the weekend, arguably the race of the year, and one of the all-time great Preaknesses. The filly Swiss Skydiver and jockey Robby Albarado knifed down to the rail to take a slim lead over Derby hero Authentic with a half-mile to go, and they were set for what track announcer Dave Rodman called “a battle in Baltimore.” She stubbornly held him off the rest of the way while the rest of the field receded into the rearview mirror. Running time for the 1 3/16 miles was 1:53.28; only the mighty Secretariat ran the Middle Jewel faster.