OPINION: The Preakness should be today
As thrilling as last week’s stretch duel was between new Triple Crown players National Treasure and Blazing Sevens in last Saturday’s Preakness, it should have been run today.
Racing officials and governing bodies in Maryland should consider revising the date of the Preakness to improve the race and racing experience.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, there is a void of stakes racing, especially on the Atlantic seaboard on what for many is a three-day holiday weekend. Looking at the stakes calendar this three-day holiday weekend, there are only two graded stakes races on this side of the Mississippi River the entire holiday weekend (the Winning Colors at Churchill Downs and the Softly Spoken at Belmont Park, both grade threes) and only a handful of other stakes contests of any sort.
The NBA and NHL playoffs are ongoing, but that’s true all spring. The PGA Tournament was moved to be held head-to-head versus this year’s Preakness, and the Indianapolis 500 is on Memorial Day. Visibility, however, isn’t the primary argument.
The middle jewel should be, well, in the middle of the Triple Crown, out of the shadow of the Kentucky Derby and in sync with the Belmont Stakes. Each Triple Crown race is worthy to be on an equal standing. Hosting Triple Crown races three weeks apart provides better symmetry. The Triple Crown is three races for three-year-olds, with three weeks apart from middle to last leg; why not triple the threes?
Changing the date on the Preakness has very little to do with the Triple Crown itself. It’s a minor change in a format that previously evolved into its current format without any preconceived plan. The Memorial weekend notion is not to generate more or fewer Triple Crown winners. The horses and those who campaign them determine who wins the Triple Crown. A minor change to the format won’t be the end of Triple Crown and, in fact, might enhance it.
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Moving the Preakness to three weeks after the Kentucky Derby simply allows Maryland, especially when and however they resolve their current facility situation, to showcase its racing heritage in an extended format outside of the shadow of the greatest two minutes in sport. For many, there is a 46-week lead up to the Kentucky Derby. The lead up for the Preakness is two weeks. The Who doesn’t get booked the same week after the Rolling Stones take the stage. If the Triple Crown is horse racing’s playoffs – the biggest events on the biggest stages – why not follow the trend of every other sport and lengthen it?
Moving to the fourth week of May allows Maryland an opportunity to enhance both the Preakness and stakes racing on the weekend’s undercards and the days that lead up to the main event. With the Preakness being run on Memorial Day weekend, Sunday could also be considered as a Preakness date.
The concept would force NYRA to evaluate whether or not to move the Belmont Stakes, currently three weeks after the Preakness. Scratching 2020 due to Covid restrictions, four of the last five Belmont Stakes winners ran in the Kentucky Derby, though the number of starters that ran Kentucky Derby weekend (factoring for fillies and other three-year old races at Churchill Downs the same weekend) in each of the last two legs are virtually identical.
Whether starting in the Kentucky Derby or not, three weeks provide a larger window to bring Preakness starters to the grounds of Pimlico ahead of the event. Popularity in morning watch events has grown in both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. They present a wonderful opportunity to introduce newcomers to the sport.
The last two Preaknesses haven’t been vintage, at least in terms of attracting Derby runners. Last year Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike passed on the Preakness, and while this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mage did come to Baltimore, he was the only Derby starter to advance to the Preakness.
“Two weeks” has become the most common answer for bypassing the Preakness. Forte’s veterinary examination knocked out this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite out of two Triple Crowns races. If the standard for the horses is 14 days or more, it should also be the standard for the Triple Crown races, horseracing’s biggest stage, in lieu of maintaining a scheduling tradition.
The one recent race run outside of the two week shadow of the Kentucky Derby was Covid-impacted 2020 Preakness that boiled down to a half-mile duel between its eventual winner, the filly Swiss Skydiver, and the Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic. Spectators weren’t disappointed with those performances.
Adding a week between the Derby and Preakness would not deviate from the brilliance of the Triple Crown. It would be a subtle change in an event whose schedule has changed many times over the years. This is not a massive Triple Crown revision to a monthslong format that some have suggested. Any change made to the Triple Crown structure should be minor, not major.
Are there are impacts? Would there be challenges? Of course, but that’s true no matter what path you follow.
The Preakness needs an extra week. It should have been run today.