Our favorite renewals of the Preakness

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TwinSpires Staff

May 11th, 2015

This week, we're strolling down memory lane to revisit several Preaknesses that hold special personal meaning for us. Our first "team blog" looks back at our favorite Preakness renewals.

James Scully: The 1989 Preakness ranks as one of my all-time favorite races. It marked the second of four match-ups between future Hall of Famers Sunday Silence and Easy Goer and despite the former’s 2 1/2-length victory in the Kentucky Derby, Easy Goer left the starting gate as the 3-5 favorite, with Sunday Silence 2-1 at Pimlico. A prevailing belief surrounded Easy Goer’s dislike of Churchill Downs, with the champion two-year-old sustaining his only stakes defeats at the time over muddy tracks at the Louisville, Kentucky, track (Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), and a fast track in Baltimore offered the opportunity for redemption. When Easy Goer made a run on the Preakness backstretch, rolling past Sunday Silence, who was forced to check slightly between rivals, Easy Goer’s fans were ready to celebrate as the massive colt stormed into the lead. But the one decided advantage Sunday Silence possessed was the ability to corner -- he accelerated much faster than Easy Goer through the far turn at Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Gulfstream Park (site of the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year) -- and the nearly black colt was on his game this day: Sunday Silence was about 2 1/2 lengths behind entering the far turn and at least a neck in front by the conclusion. And then the battle was on. Sunday Silence entered the stretch drive with momentum on the outside, but Easy Goer battled back to seize the advantage in mid-stretch. These dynamic Thoroughbreds laid it all on the line before Sunday Silence came one more time to get his nose down on the wire first. Watching the 1989 Preakness left me numb, a thrilling experience I’ll always remember.

Kellie Reilly: The 2005 Preakness has to be my favorite, since Afleet Alex transformed potential tragedy into triumph. Scything through along the inside with his usual panache, Alex then angled out while gaining ground fast on new leader Scrappy T. But just when Alex looked poised to blow by turning into the stretch, Scrappy T ducked out sharply and right into Alex’s path. I literally stopped breathing at that second. Given Alex’s terrific momentum, how could the sudden appearance of an obstacle be anything else than a disaster for both horse and rider? Yet the champion’s athleticism – and jockey Jeremy Rose’s balance in the saddle -- came through after just a momentary stumble. Somehow, despite nearly being brought down, Alex shrugged it off and got right back in stride as though nothing ever happened. Even more, he somehow recovered the momentum that had been brought to a screeching halt. Having altered course to the inside of Scrappy T, Alex surged past to win handily by 4 3/4 lengths. He flicked his ears as if to say, “no big deal.” Alex’s performance was especially meaningful because it stamped him as clearly the best of his generation, and proved his third in the Kentucky Derby all wrong. The 50-1 Derby winner, Giacomo, could not lay serious claim to divisional leadership, and the Preakness set the record straight.

Ed DeRosa: The nominees for my favorite Preakness are: Sunday Silence (1989), Afleet Alex (2005), and Rachel Alexandra (2009). And the winner is...2005! It was tough to eliminate the other two. The 1989 Preakness is the first "big race" I can remember watching. I already enjoyed trips to Thistledown with my family, but I don’t remember a graded stakes until this one, and that makes sense. How could anyone forget that stretch battle? The 2009 Preakness featured one of the best horses I’ve ever seen live while doing something truly special by defeating males in a Triple Crown race. But both are in the backseat to the 2005 edition, which admittedly carries with it some nostalgia for me as the first Preakness I covered, which also means my first visit to the Nautilus Dinner, my first crab cake, and my first Natty Boh. But who can forget that race? I actually liked Scrappy T a little bit, so Afleet Alex coming back the way he did (trainer Tim Ritchey, an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fans, compared it to Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" by calling it the "Immaculate Recovery") ended up winning me money. If Scrappy T had won then he surely would have been disqualified and placed behind Afleet Alex, which unless Afleet Alex had finished second would have meant Giacomo would have gone to Belmont for a chance at the Triple Crown. In a game filled with hyperbole (and I’m more guilty of it than most), this was truly a superlative performance that I feel fortunate to have witnessed live.

Vance Hanson: Asking me to pick my favorite Preakness is like asking me my favorite Beatles song. There are just too many good ones to choose from. The preceding selections were among my favorites as well, but Rachel Alexandra’s in 2009 was truly special. Considered by many to be the best three-year-old (period) in the country following her 20 1/4-length romp in the Kentucky Oaks, she justly rewarded the sportsmanship of owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen by proving just that with a brilliant and historic one-length victory over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. It was the first Preakness win by a filly in 85 years, since Nellie Morse in 1924. Given the historical rarity, I’m not certain I’ll ever see a filly win any of the three classics again, but I feel fortunate that in my time as a fan I’ve witnessed Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby), Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont), and Rachel Alexandra re-write the record books. The Preakness was the tip of the iceberg for Rachel, who would go on to beat the year’s best three-year-old colt, Summer Bird, in the Haskell Invitational, and later became the first filly ever to win the historic Woodward over older males. Her campaign was one for the ages by a three-year-old filly, and one unlikely to be replicated on the American turf. Of that I’m more certain.