Preakness Q & A

Like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes is surrounded by myths and half-truths. Here's a question and answer session that will improve your Preakness I.Q.

Updated: May 18, 2005, 11:21 AM ET
By Ed McNamara | Special to

Like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes is surrounded by myths and half-truths. Here's a question and answer session that will improve your Preakness I.Q.

Q. On television, Pimlico looks so much smaller than Churchill Downs. How big is each track?
A. Actually, the main track of each is a mile around and encircles a 7-furlong turf course. Churchill looks bigger because its stretch is 120 feet wide, 50 feet wider than Pimlico's. The distance from the stretch turn to the finish line at Churchill is 1,234? feet, compared to Pimlico's 1,152 feet. So closers at Churchill have 82? more feet to work with than they do at Pimlico.

Q. The common belief is that the Derby favors stretch runners and the Preakness aids horses that set or pace the press. True?
A. Not necessarily. Although being hung wide on Pimlico's tighter turns usually is a handicap, front-runners have not had a significant edge in the past 20 Preaknesses. It will surprise most people to learn that since 1985, there have been four wire-to-wire winners in the Derby and only one (Louis Quatorze, 1996) in the Preakness.

However, tactical speed is an edge at Pimlico. Of the past 20 Preakness winners, only seven were farther back than fourth after 6 furlongs. Compare that to the past 20 Derbys, where 12 winners were fifth or worse after three-quarters of a mile. So deep closers have a much better chance in the Derby, but you certainly don't need the lead to win the Preakness.

Q. The Derby pace was very fast this year. Is that likely to be true in the Preakness, too?
A. Pace dynamics depend on the running styles of the horses in a specific field, and most of the 20 Derby runners will not go to Baltimore. Yet a good rule of thumb is that jockeys are less likely to push hard early in the Preakness after seeing the horses that were close to a hot pace in the Derby finish far back.

In 2001, Derby winner Monarchos was 13th after a half-mile in an insanely quick 44.86 seconds and 10th after 6 furlongs in a steaming 1:09.25. Last week, Giacomo was 18th of 20 after a half-mile in a hot 45.38 seconds and still 18th after 6 furlongs in an exhausting 1:09.59. In both Derbys, deep closers ran 1-2.

In the 2001 Derby, Point Given finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite after being second through a mile in 1:35, a fifth of a second off Spend a Buck's 1985 Derby record. In the Preakness, Gary Stevens rated Point Given in midpack for a half-mile in a leisurely 47.32 seconds and moved up to third after 6 furlongs in a comfortable 1:11.32. Point Given then drew away to win by 2? lengths. There are no guarantees, but don't be surprised if a similar pace scenario develops Saturday.

Q. The song during the Preakness post parade sounds familiar. Why is that?
A. Because the music for the state song "Maryland, My Maryland" was lifted note for note from the traditional German Christmas carol "Tannenbaum, Oh Tannebaum," which translates as "Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree."

Q. The Preakness winner wears a wreath of Black-Eyed Susans, the Maryland state flower that matches the black and yellow colors of the state flag. But they don't bloom in Maryland until June, so how is that possible?
A. By using 80 bunches of Viking daisies and daubing the center of each flower with black lacquer (similar to shoe polish). Preserve the illusion. Hey, that's show biz.