LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Given the recent events in Baltimore, it can only be hoped that the only news coming out of Pimlico Race Course on Saturday afternoon concerns the Preakness, the second jewel on the Triple Crown. But you can bet that law-enforcement forces will be on high alert, lest some political or protest group try to grab the national stage to make a statement.
It brings to mind what happened in Louisville in the late 1960s.
In the weeks leading up to the 1967 Kentucky Derby, the city was embroiled in an open-housing controversy. I seem to remember some minor violence and even the burning of a cross. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to town to talk with city officials and lead a peaceful protest.
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On the Tuesday before the Derby, during the running of the Derby Trial, a string of protestors scaled the fences at the top of the stretch and lay down across the width of the track. For a few moments, as the field pounded toward them, the possibilities were scary. But then the protestors jumped up and ran off, averting what could have been a major disaster.
Naturally, security was tightened for the Derby. The track was lined by members of the Kentucky National Guard, and the race went off without incident.
The next year's Derby came only a month or so after the Rev. King had been assassinated in Memphis. Once again, security was increased and tightened. The Derby went off without incident, although there was an interesting footnote when it was determined that the victorious Dancer's Image had apparently run with a then-illegal medication in his system.
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The colt's owner, Boston millionaire Peter Fuller, was a liberal Democrat who supported the Rev. King. After Dancer's Image won a stakes race in New England shortly after the assassination, Fuller donated the winner's purse to King's widow, Coretta Scott King.
After Dancer's Image was disqualified from his Derby victory, one theory was that racists had illegally medicated the colt in order to punish Fuller for supporting Mrs. King. But nobody ever proved that theory – or any other one, for that matter. To this day, nobody knows how the illegal medication – if that's indeed what it was – got into the colt's system.
So it can only be hoped that nobody tries to tamper with the Preakness or the horses. Odds are that the day will go smoothly. Still, in this era of terrorists and craziness, everyone putting on a large public event is well-advised to take nothing for granted.
Only eight horses are in Saturday's Preakness field, unusually small in these days when so many covet the Triple Crown races, but that only means that nobody should get too upset about Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah drawing the inside post position.
If Pharoah is as good as many experts think he is, he doesn't need to do anything except let the race unfold to his outside. He has the speed to go to the lead, if jockey Victor Espinoza wishes, but he also can take back and pick his spot.
This isn't to say a horse can't find traffic problems in an eight-horse field. Heck, I've seen horses get in trouble in a four-horse field. But unless one of the other seven is in the race only to make trouble for American Pharoah, he should have a clear shot at adding the Preakness Black-Eyed Susans to the Derby American Roses.
Only five of the Preakness horses came out of the Derby. One reason is that several got banged up in the traffic gnarl that took place behind the three leaders. Another is that the three leaders – American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund – all came out of the Derby unscathed.
There's no reason to think the same three won't make up the Preakness trifecta. But will the order of finish be the same? Firing Line made Espinoza work harder than he wanted to win the Derby in the final strides. And Dortmund, who went into the Derby unbeaten, held on gamely for third after setting a moderate pace.
Dortmund will break from the No. 2 post, Firing Line from No. 8. Bob Baffert, who trains both American Pharoah and Dortmund, was mildly concerned.
"I can't believe I drew the 1-2 of all draws," Baffert said. "I'm just glad I didn't draw that for the Derby. Sometimes you've got to give a little. It's a short field, eight horses. He still has to break well. If he's the best horse, we'll find out.”
“I don't like the inside. I never like the one-hole. Sometimes they don't break as well. (Pharoah) has drawn the one-hole before at Santa Anita. When I was watching the draw and all these numbers were coming up, I go, ‘This is not looking good.' It's the luck of draw. We're there. I don't love it, but they'll be easy to watch.”
And exciting to watch.
I can find no reason to pick against the Derby winner, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see him in a blanket three-horse photo finish with Firing Line and Dortmund. Each has the talent to ruin Pharoah's Triple Crown bid. If anybody can steal the show, it's Danzig Moon.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes occasional columns to WAVE3.com.
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