Real Quiet
Real Quiet won the 1998 Preakness and then the ’99 Special. Photo by Double J Photography.

It’s no secret that the Preakness Stakes is both an important race in and of itself and also a launching pad to bigger and better things.

Preakness winners who go on to become Horse of the Year honorees and Hall of Famers are pretty commonplace, which isn’t surprising for a race that’s one of the very small number of true American classic races.

But what of some of the other graded stakes that take place at Pimlico over Preakness weekend? Who are some of the top runners to win those?

The Pimlico Special is a bit of a strange bird. Up through 2008, it was one of the most important races in the nation for older horses on the main track and attracted stellar runners each year.

But the Special took a three-year hiatus after the ’08 runninng, returned as a Grade 3 in 2012, and has remained there ever since.

Here are the top winners during the period from 1991 on.

5) Real Quiet

How good was the Pimlico Special from 1991 through 2008? Good enough that this Bob Baffert-trained son of Quiet American is only the fifth-best horse to prevail during the period. Real Quiet took the 1999 version of the Special, prevailing by a neck over favored Free House while well clear of the rest. Real Quiet took the ’98 Eclipse as champion three-year-old after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before getting run down on the money to lose the Belmont by a nose. He finished his career with six wins and nearly $3.3 million in career earnings.

4) Mineshaft

The 2003 Horse of the Year was a dominant winner of that year’s Special, winning by nearly four lengths as the 6-5 favorite. Trained by Neil Howard, the son of A.P. Indy won 10 of 18 career starts and earned nearly $2.3 million. His Special win came during a season in which he won seven of nine, including four of five Grade 1 starts.

3) Invasor

Argentinian-bred Invasor burst on the American racing scene with a 1 ¼-length victory in the 2006 Special as the second-longest shot in a five-horse field. The son of Candy Stripes had won all five of his starts in Uruguay to start his career before running fourth in the ’06 UAE Derby. Sent to the US, where he was trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, he ran the table, winning all four of his starts the rest of the year to earn Horse of the Year honors. He won two more in 2007, getting a kind of redemption for his only defeat by taking the Dubai World Cup. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.

2) Skip Away

This son of Skip Trial was a 2004 Hall of Fame inductee. He ran in the Special twice, finishing second by a half-length to Gentlemen in 1997 and winning it easily as the 1-5 favorite in ’98. Trained by Sonny Hine, Skip Away won 18 of 38 career starts while earning more than $9.6 million. He won Eclipse Awards as champion three-year-old colt in ’96 and champion older horse in ’97 and ’98, and he was the 1998 Horse of the Year.

1) Cigar

Maryland-bred Cigar won the 1995 Special en route to the first of his two Horse of the Year titles, defeating a field that included 1993 winner Devil His Due and 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Concern. The Bill Mott-trained son of Palace Music compiled a record-tying 16-race win streak that included wins in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic – “the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar,” track announcer Tom Durkin called him – and, five months later, the inaugural Dubai World Cup. Cigar was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

And a couple of honorable mentions: Farma Way, who won the 1991 Special, was certainly not the best horse to win the Pimlico Special. But what the D. Wayne Lukas trainee did do was set a track record for 1 3/16 miles that still stands: 1:52.55 in a three-length win over favored Summer Squall… Shaman Ghost is probably the best Special winner since the race returned to the calendar in 2012. He took the 2017 edition by a neck as the 2-5 favorite for what turned out to be the final win of his career. The two-time Grade 1 winner, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, retired with eight victories and $3.8 million in career earnings…