Photo Essay: Preaknesses past

Text and photos by Lauren Amberman.

Former longtime racetracker Lauren Amberman is also a terrific photographer. She generously shares her photos of past Preaknesses here, along with her descriptions of them. Enjoy!

Preakness. The word conjures up thoughts of thoroughbreds at Pimlico, Black-Eyed Susans, and infield parties. Pimlico has showcased 148 years of talented Preakness entrants, and my camera has captured a few of them. Follow me down memory lane as I highlight some of those moments that thrilled me and still live in my heart.

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown in 2023, it is my opinion that all other Preakness Stakes must take their rightful place in line behind the transformative chestnut colt whose electrifying performance on that day, on this patch of dirt, made our collective manes stand on end…

A few months after then 1977 Preakness, I had the distinct honor of holding Secretariat at Claiborne Farm during a trip to Kentucky. His groom led him out of his famous stall that had once housed Secretariat’s sire, Bold Ruler. Then, I was handed the lead shank…How could life get any better than this?! Big Red, the GOAT!!!  Just pinch me…


Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.

In the late 1970’s, I had my first in-person encounters with Triple Crown thoroughbreds. Preakness 1977 brought us a handsome dark bay colt named Seattle Slew. Along with my parents and friends, we staked our place on the grandstand apron along the rail. We saw him and the rest of the field as they paraded past us to the saddling area. Running against MD-breds J.O. Tobin and Counter Punch, “Slew” won that day and was on his way to becoming the Triple Crown champion.  So exciting!

Slew won by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 2-5, with Iron Constitution in second. As for the Maryland-breds, J. O. Tobin finished fifth under jockey Bill Shoemaker and Counter Punch, with Gregg McCarron up, was eighth.

In an only-in-racing coincidence, Gregg’s younger brother Chris was on Regal Sir in the Preakness. Chris and his mount finished ninth, three lengths behind big brother Gregg.


Maryland connections abounded in the 1985 Preakness. Among those were MD-based trainers Sonny Hine, King T. Leatherbury, Ross Pearce, Butch Lenzini, Jr, and Hank Allen. Shown here with jockey Wayne Barnett, Hank Allen saddled Sparrowvon to an eighth place finish. When Hank retired from his career as a professional MLB player, he transitioned to training racehorses. At times, his brothers Ron Allen and Dick Allen (a seven time MLB All-Star) would accompany him to the track. In 1989, Hank would saddle Northern Wolf to s sixth place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.


The 1978 Preakness brought us a spine-tingling stretch duel for the ages as Affirmed would defeat Alydar by a neck to capture the second jewel of his Triple Crown. I had my first credentials as a pro photographer that week, and I could not believe that I was standing near jockeys Steve Cauthen and Jorge Velasquez as they waited for the call for “Riders Up!”  When it became post time, I positioned myself at the finish line on the inside rail. The crowd roared as the horses flew past me…It was like being in a dream!

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.


Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.

1979 was the “Year of The Bid,” Spectacular Bid. Although Kentucky-bred, this steel-gray thoroughbred with shades of bay in his coat had all Maryland connections. Trainer Grover “Buddy” Delp, owners Harry and Theresa Meyerhoff, jockey Ronald J. Franklin, exercise rider R.A. “Bobby” Smith, and groom Moe Hall were the main team members. 

Of the many memories of that week, one stands out. As Spectacular Bid entered the winner’s circle by the Preakness cupola, jockey Ron Franklin’s friends from nearby Dundalk were chanting “RONNIE! RONNIE! RONNIE!” Buddy Delp grabbed Ronnie’s hand as a misty rain came from the overcast sky. Marylanders were ecstatic and proud, as we had a horse who was one win away from Triple Crown immortalitY. Note Jim McKay wearing the ABC Sports yellow blazer in the background.


Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.

Genuine Risk was the queen of the 1980 Preakness, and she enamored us all with her presence. She rolled into Baltimore as the favorite after her Kentucky Derby win over the boys. Her gorgeous chestnut coat contrasted well with the colors of her owners, Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone. In a controversial finish, she would finish second to Codex in that Preakness. For more of the fan experience of the 1980 Preakness, check out this memory.

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.


There is always a festive competition among the pony people who take the thoroughbreds to the post on special stakes days. Manes are braided, pom poms are added to tails, and splashes of color accentuate the tack. They vie for the opportunity to take a Preakness entry to the post so that they can appear on national television, and then hope for their charge to win! Shown here, John Bradford was one of those wonderful people that I knew in the 1970s and ’80s.


The Maryland-based 1982 Preakness winner, Aloma’s Ruler, was a surprising thrill for many that year. However, a lot of us were rooting for another local thoroughbred by the name of Linkage. Royally bred by owner Christiana Stable, he was trained by Henry S. Clark. Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker would ride him to finish a gallant second, only a half length back. The groom who is leading him in this photograph was “Pockets,” a friend of mine. I had once worked for Mr. Clark, so Linkage’s entry was very special to me.

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.


Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.

For Marylanders, nothing could top the rain-soaked 1983 Preakness as Deputed Testamony sloshed to victory under local jockey Don Miller, Jr. Trained by Bill Boniface, this Maryland-bred was a source of pride and joy to many. As they came jogging back toward the winner’s circle, the smile on Don’s face tells it all! A few weeks ago, I heard a funny story about a post-Preakness celebration. Jockey Lisa Ruch had won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on the prior day on Batna, so the story goes that she and Don Miller, Jr. had dinner at Wendy’s after the Preakness to celebrate both of their big wins!


When Broad Brush ran in the 1986 Preakness, we had high hopes for this Maryland-bred star with local connections. He was owned by Robert E. Meyerhoff, and his trainer, Richard “Dickie” Small, was well-respected and loved. I remember the excitement in the air as jockey Chris McCarron warmed up Broad Brush before the race. Even though Broad Brush would finish third that day, he would go on to win seven graded stakes during the fifteen months that followed!

Photo by Lauren Heathcote Amberman.


The week prior to the “big race” at Pimlico has always been filled with much anticipation. After the vans pulled into the backstretch, each Preakness entry would walk gingerly across the parking lot and toward the special stalls that awaited them. The eventual winner in 1984, Gate Dancer, was one of those who I photographed upon his arrival. He would race for two more years, collecting a total of $2.5 million in his career.