A Preakness about everything but the Preakness

Pimlico’s not a room, but if it were, Saturday’s breakdown of Havanameltdown during the running of the Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes would have taken the air out of it. And the thing was, it didn’t feel like the air ever quite came back.

Not even an absolutely stirring Preakness duel between National Treasure and Blazing Sevens could right the ship. Of course, that may be because it was also a duel between super-trainers Bob Baffert and Chad Brown.

Baffert, who also trained Havanameltdown, is only now coming off a two-year Churchill Downs, Inc. suspension for positive tests in both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. And in early May Brown was sued for monetary damages by a woman claiming he violently attacked her. He was arrested for the incident last August and in November accepted a plea deal, agreeing to a lesser charge of harassment in the second degree and avoiding a criminal record, according to The Daily Gazette.

So, yeah, not exactly a feel-good moment, and it was exacerbated by a tone-deaf press conference full of Baffert complaining about the hard life of trainers and questions about his “vindication” now that he’s won a record-breaking eighth Preakness.

Thanks, umm, but no thanks.

Yet in a sense, it was like that all week at Pimlico, backside and front. Whether it was equine deaths at Churchill, the dearth of Derby runners in Baltimore, the increasingly dismal condition of Pimlico itself (and the rising cost of tickets), or the future of Maryland racing, most of the chatter centered on things not measured by stopwatches and finish lines.


It was, in fact, the Preakness that was about everything but the Preakness.

The Triple Crown season is usually something of a vacation. This year: not so much.

Most years we don’t worry about shrinking foal crops, declining handle, or empty grandstands when the betting is robust and the stands are full. Speaking of which: attendance for the two days of Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness was reported by the Maryland Jockey Club to be about 65,000 people. That’s about half the 131,200 the company said Preakness day alone drew in 2019.

All of which is too bad, because, as they always do, the horses themselves did their level bests to redeem the humans. The National Treasure-Blazing Sevens scrap was one for the ages. Straight No Chaser was absolutely scintillating in winning the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint. Saturday also saw course records set for both eight and nine furlongs on the turf.

And that’s to say nothing of Friday’s racing, which saw Rattle N Roll run down Speed Bias on the wire to win the Pimlico Special and Taxed post a sharp score in the Black-Eyed Susan.

In a conversation Saturday with The Baltimore Banner, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said, ““I want this to be the last Preakness where there is uncertainty about what the future of Pimlico and horse racing in Maryland is,”

We’ll drink a Black-Eyed Susan to that.