Editor’s Note: Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote about the Preakness exactly 60 years ago, on May 20, 1963.)
If the Triple Crown of horse racing—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont—were sisters, Preakness would be the one with the buck teeth and glasses. No one would notice her at a party and her dance card would contain more blank spaces than her bridge.
The only way the Preakness can get its name in the history books is if it is won by the same horse that wins the Derby and the Belmont. As far as the studbook goes, it’s only the eighth race at Pimlico on a Saturday afternoon. The winner of the Preakness is the vice president of the sport of kings. Anyone who can name the last five Preakness winners who didn’t win the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont goes to the top of the class and gets a free one-year subscription to Uncle Ben’s special Can’t Lose.
Part of the problem is that they don’t have a state drink in Maryland and their state song was not improvised by Stephen Foster but by some German with the afternoon off and use of the organ. “Maryland, My Maryland” is known in Munich as “Oh, Christmas Tree” and nothing more. Maryland has been on a losing streak since Barbara Fritchie.
Some jockeys despise the Kentucky Derby because it comes too early in the year. Well, so does the Preakness. Others criticize the Derby because it is a quarter mile shorter than the Belmont. Well, the Preakness is a sixteenth shorter than the Derby. It’s on a real Schneider.
There is something they could do. They could have Irving Berlin cook them up something really good with one finger and Meredith Willson to orchestrate.
They might think of a drink like apple cider with birdseed, or scotch and maple syrup. It wouldn’t be much worse than bourbon and Kentucky weed.
But there’s not much they can do about the race itself, unless Kentucky bans the game. If that happens, Maryland would be the logical heir and next of kin. Maryland is, after all, the second most famous breeding ground for thoroughbreds. It wouldn’t do to imitate Kentucky too much. The “Maryland Derby” wouldn’t work at all. The “Maryland Homburg,” perhaps, after the official Washington, which is only a furlong away. I suppose you’d say the Homburg is an old hat now that the Republicans are out of power and you-know-who goes around bareheaded all the time much to the distress of the Danbury hat makers.
Which brings me to why I’m sorry Candy Spots won the Preakness. Now it becomes all too obvious that she should have won the Kentucky Derby. If he wins the Belmont, I’ll sit down and cry a lot. It’s been 15 years since a horse has won the Triple Crown. And, if it turns out that the only horse race Candy Spots ever lost was the Kentucky Derby, that’s almost worse than winning none. I can see owner Rex Ellsworth and trainer Mish Tenney coming home and the little lady saying, “Honeys, you won the Preakness and the Belmont!” And her answer: “Yes. But you should have seen the one that got away.
I’d rather feel there’s more truth than horse laughs in my colleague Al Wolf’s observation that, until Mish Tenney, no one had thought of using the Kentucky Derby as a turnbuckle before. Mish knows more about horses than I will ever know. All he has to do for that is be able to recognize a gelding across the room. But when a horse finishes a race limping after preparing himself with only work and, two weeks later, dismisses the same competition with a yawn, he must start looking for reasons. I think we can all agree that the barn was trying. They had the best rider and the best horse.
The conditioning needs some examination. You know, California has only had one legitimate Kentucky Derby champion in its history: Swaps. It has never had a Triple Crown champion. Maybe it never will.
It is very difficult in those circumstances to settle for the sister. I mean, if you don’t have to, why take the fun aspect? [woman] with the curlers in her hair and the old lady always walking around?
I think I have just the right drink for the Preakness. A beer. I want to cry in it. Because, as always, Lena Horne could have the lyrics to Candy Spots: “It’s the wrong race, in the wrong place. And though you won it, it’s too late a race…