LOUISVILLE (WAVE) – In the royal family of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, the Preakness is the disheveled uncle who stumbles into the party reeking of National Premium beer and wearing clothes that came from the Salvation Army.
The Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes have tried to disown him, because he's such a shabby eyesore, but he manages to hang on, year after year. To him, a major renovation is a new coat of paint, not the upgrading and improvement of facilities.
The others suspect he has taken his jewel from the crown and hocked it, replacing it with zircon. It wouldn't be his first scam. For years, he has been passing off the official Preakness flower as the Black-Eyed Susan, when, in fact, the blanket draped around the winner's neck is really daises with the middle painted brown.
He doesn't pay attention to the others, but sometimes their constant carping – fix this, get rid of that -- gets so annoying that he exacts revenge by refusing to allow the Derby winner to repeat his Derby victory that blows up the Triple Crown, and Uncle Preakness staggers off chuckling to himself.
So welcome, Justify, to the 143rd Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, but hardly a jewel, at least in terms of the ramshackle old place where it's held.
Since thoroughbreds aren't the smartest creatures in the world, a well-documented fact, perhaps all tracks look more or less the same to them. All they require are bed, bath, and breakfast. It's the public that wants the luxury suites, the casino-style gambling areas, and the classy restaurants.
So considering the quality of his competition in the Preakness, Justify should just be able to fly in from Churchill Downs, take care of business, and then return to Louisville to prepare for the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes on June 9 on Long Island.
The Derby runner-up, Good Magic, wants to try the Derby winner again on a harder and faster track than the sloppy one on Derby Day at Churchill. He must be respected, but it's more likely that he will turn out to be what Sham was to Secretariat or Alydar to Affirmed – the one good enough to bring out the best in Justify.
Of the so-called "new shooters" – horses that didn't run in the Derby – the best may be Quip, second to Malibu Moon in the Arkansas Derby, his most recent start. Otherwise, the field will consist mostly of a couple of Calumet Farm horses trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and the so-called "house horse," Diamond King, winner of the Frederick Tesio Stakes at nearby Laurel.
Laurel is a nicer facility than Pimlico, and many Maryland horsemen have been lobbying for years to move the Preakness there if Pimlico continues to drag its heels on major upgrades. Of course, even if the track did modernize, it still would be in the same rundown neighborhood where nobody wants to be stuck too long in traffic.
This isn't to say there's nothing good about Pimlico. Unlike Churchill Downs, it has a real press box overlooking the track. The Preakness horses mostly are stabled in one barn, known as "the stakes barn," which is convenient for the media. And for those tourists more interested in partying than playing the horses, the infield crowd makes the Derby look like a church picnic.
In addition, Baltimore is a great newspaper town, for those who still care about such things, and the seafood restaurants, especially the ones that specialize in crabs that require bibs and cracking expertise, are plentiful. It's the hometown of Babe Ruth, H.L. Mencken, and the Colts of Johnny Unitas, a graduate of the University of Louisville who still is known as "Mr Quarterback."
Like Louisville, Baltimore has a lot of blue-collar neighborhoods where there seems to be a bar on every corner. It's an unpretentious city that nevertheless has its share of museums and various forms of the performing arts. All together, it's an interesting place to spend a few days in May.
But then here comes Uncle Preakness. Will he behave himself this year? Will he at least be civil to the Derby winner? He wouldn't screw up a Triple Crown for Justify, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith, would he?
For the Derby and the Belmont, it will be a matter of making nice with him, even if they have to endure his beer breath and belching during cocktail hour. He may be an eyesore, but he's their eyesore.
Even in the Triple Crown, it's all in the family.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
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