Everyone in the state of Kentucky is more than well aware of the Derby even though it's the "baby" of the family having its first running in 1875 when the Belmont started way back in 1867. And the Belmont always seems to attract the most attention when the Derby and Preakness are won by the same horse. Let's not sell the Preakness short. It's actually older than the Derby; though it has had fewer races ran in its timeline, as there will be 138 Preakness Stakes in the books after Saturday. Its first winner was Survivor, who reportedly won by 10 lengths in his victory. Smarty Jones later broke that record in his 2004 triumph in Baltimore.
There is also a decent history of fillies running well in the race. Nellie Morse (1924) and Rachel Alexandra (2009) are the 2 most recent fillies of the 5 fillies that have won the event. Flocarline (1903), Whimsical (1906), and Rhine Maiden (1915) are the other three winners many years ago. It is arguable that Genuine Risk should have won her Preakness after getting race-ridden out of the 1980 running by Codex. It's possible an inquiry could have affected that race more than it ended up doing.
I have fuzzy memories of Timber Country and Louis Quatorze winning their Preakness runnings in 1995 and 1996, respectively, but the first one I vividly remember was Silver Charm's. He had a flair for the dramatic in both his Derby and Preakness wins that year. He was always a horse that could grind out a photo finish to the good against anyone. This even carried into his 4-year-old campaign that saw him win the Dubai World Cup, have an epic dead heat in that year's Kentucky Cup Classic that resulted in a half-and-half jockey silk painted jockey that still sits in the Turfway Park lobby, and run a hard-fought second in the world's widest photo finish for win EVER in the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic to Awesome Again besting Swain for the place that day. Skip Away and Victory Gallop were ALSO RANS in that 1998 Classic. Coronado's Quest, Arch, Touch Gold and Gentlemen weren't bad, either. Real Quiet unfortunately couldn't make that dance in 1998. It will be quite hard to top that field, really. One year earlier than that in the 1997 Triple Crown, I experienced my first horse racing disappointment when the aforementioned Touch Gold ran him down in the Belmont after Chris McCarron wisely decided to stay out of Silver Charm's field of vision the entire race. It doesn't take away from the joy I felt when he won jewel #2, though.
The same goes for Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2008), and I'll Have Another (2012) when they won as well. Afleet Alex (2005) and Point Given (2001) winning their years was good too, though it just made me think "Rawr, where was that in Louisville?" after the race. I have no idea how Afleet Alex won that day. He's lucky he didn't fall down or chuck Jeremy Rose out of the stirrups. Not only that, it could have been the biggest garbage truck back-up into a Triple Crown try since Forward Pass got there via a disqualification in his Derby of 1968. Luckily, such a problem was averted.
Big Brown's Preakness will be remembered fondly as the day that I had my greatest return at a racetrack. It helps when you like the longshots underneath the big favorite and can single a horse on top hoping for large payoffs in the 2nd/3rd/4th slots. I had the $2 exacta, $1 trifecta, and $1 superfecta that day. I would have bet $.10 supers and hit the repeat button that day, but they weren't installed until later runnings of the Preakness. That was a nice haul for a soon-to-be high school graduate, to say the least. His Belmont flop was the least disappointing, though, since he pretty much lost the race before the quarter pole with his bad feet, throwing a shoe, and breaking badly. Also, having Dutrow as a Triple Crown winner after what he's done would have tarnished the bid a bit.
I'll Have Another's was the biggest relief of all in the short term before he crushed many of us when he had to scratch/retire the day before the Belmont in 2012. His Derby was a great feeling because I had the winner nailed spot on since his Santa Anita Derby triumph. Having him in the Oaks/Derby double and giving him out as a win play to anyone that would listen made him at least my co-favorite Derby winner with Charismatic (my dad had the Derby trifecta that year for logical reasons and the "hey, they're all owned by past Derby winning owners" angle) that I witnessed.
Earlier that day, one of my favorite soccer team's archrivals, Chelsea F.C., won the Champions League in European football to oust my club, Tottenham Hotspur F.C. (COYS), from qualifying for the 2012-13 competition the following season. It was a gut-wrenching match to watch since my club had no control over the proceedings whatsoever. At least if they were in the match, it could have been proven on the pitch. However, it wasn't to be. I got crushed right before the wire. I'll Have Another helped to alleviate that pain when he caught Bodemeister just before the wire about 120 minutes after the Final concluded. That's about as long as the Champions League final took to complete before the penalty shootout. It was a small world to go from being crushed to being able to fly out of Turfway Park E.T.-style seeing his win. The way they let Bode walk that day in the Preakness after he almost stole the Derby had me worried that I'd "have another" year of no Triple Crown on a day that already ended in a pile of meh for the time being. Luckily, he lifted my spirits, despite sucking them empty last June.
As much as we love the Triple Crown, and as much as it gets followed in comparison to other great days of racing in the States, you can't have the Belmont buzz of a possible Crown winner without winning the Preakness first. Only in the Preakness can the second jewel of the Crown be won to have a shot at the third. Even when Gallant Fox won it before he won his Derby, as the order was different back then, it still created a spark. Those 11 names are pretty much immortals in horse racing lore.
Sir Barton wasn't even the first choice of his connections on Derby Day--his stablemate Billy Kelly may have inadvertently led to the Black Sox scandal that year when winning the head-to-head battle of the Derby to Eternal in a side bet when he was 2nd to Eternal's 10th, but that's another story for another day; Omaha always lived in daddy's (Gallant Fox) shadow; Assault was more a people's horse of the Seabiscuit type than a full on blue blood thanks to his deformed hoof. All of these 11 are unanimous greats even without the Triple Crown on their resumes. Even the three of those greats that were the closest to just "pretty good" compared to those other 8 winners.
I hope that Orb can add his name to that list on June 8, 2013. It couldn't happen to better people, as the Phipps' and Janneys are household names in the Sport of Kings. It would be nice for Shug McGaughey to have his moment in the sun and at immortality in racing. It would be nice for Joel Rosario to become this generation's Steve Cauthen and be remembered forever as a Triple Crown winning jockey in the right place at the right time. History says he'll disappoint and become #13 to come up short in the Belmont since Spectacular Bid started the drought as the first Triple Crown failer in 1979. Heck, maybe he'll even lose on Saturday. It's happened 6 of the past 8 years, after all-a new winner other than the Derby winner in Baltimore. I thought Animal Kingdom could do it, but Shackleford, a horse ridden by a jockey named Jesus on Fake Rapture Day (Harold Camping, you were kind of wrong there, to say the least) in 2011. Maybe this is the year. Louisville won a National Championship, something I wasn't sure that I'd get to see anytime soon. The women's team got 2nd in the country after beating Baylor in one of the biggest upsets in sport since Upset beat Man O'War (no that's not the origin of the word, despite it sounding cool). Anything can happen in racing, which is its greatest joy and its greatest anguish, depending on if it's what we want to see happen that day. I'd like to be more optimistic about it, even if it sets up for disappointment later.
To paraphrase/alter a quote from The Shawshank Redemption:
"I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a horse racing fan can feel, a horse racing fan at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope Orb can make it across the border (or finish line). I hope to see Orb's connections and shake their hands. I hope the next Triple Crown winner is as amazing and real as it has been in my dreams. I hope."