What Is The Preakness Stakes?

preakness stakes

The Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown are two of the most recognizable events in horse racing, but what is the Preakness Stakes, and how does this race compare with the others in the Triple Crown? As the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes is traditionally held each year in mid-May, and here, we will take a look at the history, length, and importance of this race.

History of the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes is one of the oldest horse races in America and was first held in 1873 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The race itself is named after a horse, Preakness, who became famous for winning the first-ever horse race held at Pimlico in 1870, the Dinner Party Stakes. For its first few decades, the Preakness Stakes was held at a few different racecourses, including Morris Park in Westchester County, New York, and the Gravesend Track in Brooklyn. However, in 1908, the Preakness became a fixture of the Pimlico Race Course, where it has been run ever since.

After the creation of the Triple Crown, an American variation of the British horse racing title, the Preakness Stakes officially became the second of the three races needed for a horse to capture the title. Traditionally, the Preakness Stakes is held in the middle of the month of May, typically two weeks after the first Triple Crown Race, the Kentucky Derby, which occurs on the first Saturday of May. Three weeks after the Preakness Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, occurs.

How Long is the Preakness Stakes?

The Preakness Stakes is the shortest of the three Triple Crown Races, standing at 1 and 3/16 miles long. In horse racing measurements, this translates to 9.5 furlongs. As part of the weight rules for the Preakness Stakes, filly horses (females) are required to carry 121 pounds, while colts (male horses) must carry 126 pounds.

Like the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes is surrounded by culture and traditions that make the race extremely unique. One of these traditions is the singing of “Maryland, My Maryland,” the song of the State of Maryland, where the race is held. Another tradition is the “painting of the colours,” which occurs right after the winner of the race is declared. In this tradition, a hired painter will climb a ladder onto the replica of Pimlico’s Old Clubhouse, which has a weather vane on it that is shaped like a horse and jockey. The painter will then paint the weather vane with the colors of the winning horse’s silks.

The final major tradition of the Preakness Stakes is the draping of the winning horse with a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans, the state flower of Maryland. However, in reality, the flowers used are painted yellow daisies, as Black-Eyed Susans do not bloom until the summer. This tradition mirrors the Kentucky Derby’s tradition of draping its winner with a blanket of roses, and just as the Derby is informally known as “the Run for the Roses,” the Preakness Stakes is sometimes called “the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.”     

How Important is the Preakness Stakes?

The Preakness Stakes is an extremely important horse race, but it often does not get the same attention as that of the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont Stakes. As the Kentucky Derby is so famous and exciting, and because the Belmont Stakes represents the last leg of a potential Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes can often get lost in the middle. However, it is a very important race that jockeys and trainers take quite seriously, especially if their horse has won the Kentucky Derby. There is a great deal of pressure for Derby winners to succeed in the Preakness Stakes because losing the race means that a Triple Crown will become impossible. Additionally, the shorter length of the race presents its own unique challenges, as trainers must take this into account before racing. Thus, the Preakness Stakes is definitely a “make or break” race in the truest sense of the word.


Though the Preakness Stakes is not as well-known as the Kentucky Derby and may not be as exciting as a racing of the Belmont Stakes with the Triple Crown on the line, this second race of the Triple Crown remains an extremely important one. With its own unique history and culture, the Preakness Stakes is an unmovable hallmark of Maryland history and of the history of American horse racing.