Editor’s note: Los Angeles Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Murray wrote about the Preakness exactly 60 years ago on May 20, 1963).
If horse racing’s Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont—were sisters, the Preakness would be the one with the bucket and the glasses. She will not be noticed at a party and her dance card will have more empty spaces than bridges.
The only way the Preakness can get its name in the history books is if the same horse wins the Derby and Belmont. As far as the horsebook is concerned, it’s only the eighth race at Pimlico on Saturday afternoon. The Preakness winner is the Vice President of Sports Kings. Anyone who can name the five previous Preakness winners who weren’t winners of the Kentucky Derby or Belmont goes to the head of the class and gets a free year’s subscription to the Uncle Ben’s Can’t Lose Special.
Part of the problem is that they don’t have a state drink in Maryland and their state song was whipped not by Stephen Foster but by some German afternoon and organ use. In Munich “Maryland, My Maryland” is known as “Oh, Christmas Tree” and nothing more. Maryland has been on a losing streak since Barbara Fritchy.
Some jockeys despise the Kentucky Derby because it comes so early in the year. Well, so is the case with Preakness. Others sing of the Derby because it’s a quarter of a mile shorter than the Belmont. Well, the Preakness is a shorter 16th than the Derby. It’s on a real Schneider.
There is something they can do. They can get Irving Berlin to do something real cute with One Finger and Meredith Wilson to orchestrate it.
They can have a drink like applesauce with birdseed – or scotch and maple syrup. It doesn’t get much worse than bourbon and weed in Kentucky.
But there’s not much they can do about the race itself unless Kentucky has to ban the game. If that happens, Maryland will be the logical and next of kin heir. Maryland, after all, is the second most popular breeding ground for the Thoroughbred horse. He wouldn’t do that to a Kentucky monkey much. The Maryland Derby wouldn’t be appropriate at all. Perhaps the “Maryland Homburg” is an homage to the official Washington that is only a short distance away. I guess you’d say Homburg is old hat now that the Republicans are out of office and You-Know-Who walking around with a bare head all the time is a great plight for the Danbury hat-makers.
Which brings me to why Candy Spots won the Preakness. It was now clear that he should have won the Kentucky Derby. If Belmont wins, well I’ll sit down and cry. It has been 15 years since a horse won the Triple Crown. And if it turns out that the only horse race Candy Spots has ever lost is the Kentucky Derby, that’s worse than not winning anything. I can just see owner Rex Ellsworth and trainer Mish Tenney coming home and the little woman saying, “Honey, you won Preakness and Belmont!” And their answer: Yes. But you should have seen the one who ran away.”
I would rather feel that there is more truth than the laughter of a horse in my colleague’s opinion, Al Wolfe’s observation that, even Mish Tenney, no one had thought of using the Kentucky Derby before. Mish knows more about horses than I ever did. All he has to do for that is be able to identify a testicle across the room. But when a horse finishes one race limping after getting ready to work on his own, and after two weeks, removes the same competition with a yawn, you need to start looking for the reasons. I think we can all agree that the stable was trying. They had the best rider and the best horse.
The air conditioning needs some checking. As you know, California has had only one legitimate Kentucky Derby champion in its history—the Swap. She has never had a Triple Crown Champion. You probably never will.
It is very difficult under these circumstances to settle down for a sister. I mean, if you don’t have to, why take on the ridiculous look [woman] With curls in her hair and the old lady always hanging around?
I think I just had a Preakness drink. Beer. I want to cry in it. Because, as usual, Lena Horne could get the words from Candy Spots: “It’s the wrong race, in the wrong place. And even though you won it, it’s too late…”
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