Your A-to-Z Guide to the 2015 Preakness

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May 13th, 2015

The countdown is on to Saturday's Preakness (G1), so here's one way to approach the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

A is for American Pharoah, the Kentucky Derby (G1) champion who aims to justify favoritism again. But the perennial "A" of the Preakness is the Alibi Breakfast on Thursday morning, when connections regale the media with stories.  

B symbolizes the Black-Eyed Susan, Maryland's state flower, traditionally associated with the floral garland earned by the Preakness winner. Since Black-Eyed Susans don't bloom in time, the blanket is actually made from daisies. But B is also for five-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who sends out American Pharoah and Dortmund (see the letter D) in pursuit of a sixth.

C is for crab cakes, the culinary specialty of the region. Whether you're celebrating a great Preakness result, or drowning your sorrows, crab cakes are always a best bet.

D stands for Dortmund and Danzig Moon, the respective third and fifth behind American Pharoah in the Derby, who are on a mission to turn the tables. (Looking for another who could be filed here, Divining Rod? Keep reading.)

E is for Espinoza, as in Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah's rider. Successful with both of his previous Derby-winning mounts in the Preakness (War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome in 2014), he hopes to make it three on Saturday.

F points to Firing Line, the gallant runner-up in the Derby who has one length to find on American Pharoah in their rematch.

G is for Grand Bili, a maiden winner who was under consideration for the Preakness before ultimately opting for the Chick Lang. Since he's never raced past seven furlongs, his connections -- Groupo 7C Racing Stable and trainer Gustavo Delgado -- showed another "G" for good sense.

H is for the hometown hopes that always make a Preakness appearance. Bodhisattva qualifies on two counts, being based at Laurel and coming off a score in the local prep, the Federico Tesio. Divining Rod broke his maiden at Laurel, but spent the winter at Tampa and stopped at Keeneland before returning to Fair Hill.

I is for the InfieldFest, the entertainment component of the Preakness, highlighted by musical acts and the quaffing of adult beverages.

J is for the justice ultimately done to Secretariat, who was finally recognized for setting the Preakness record time of 1:53 -- 39 years after the fact. The delay occurred because of conflicting evidence regarding his time. Pimlico's electronic timer malfunctioned on May 19, 1973, when reporting 1:55. The track's clocker hand-timed him in 1:54 2/5, and that was deemed the official time. But in later years, more sophisticated analysis of the video revealed the legend's actual time for the 1 3/16 miles. By a unanimous vote of the Maryland Racing Commission in 2012, Secretariat was enshrined in the Preakness record book. That also completed his sweep of record times in all three Triple Crown races, along with his 1:59 2/5 in the 1 1/4-mile Derby and 2:24 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

K refers to the two outcomes for American Pharoah's Triple Crown hopes in the Preakness: kept alive, or knocked out. (Whatever happens, we're grateful that it no longer stands for Kegasus, the centaur-like party animal formerly of InfieldFest.)

L stands for Lael Stables, the nom de course of Roy and Gretchen Jackson. Best known for their much beloved Barbaro, who died of complications from his catastrophic injury suffered in the 2006 Preakness, the Jacksons will be represented in Preakness 140 by another homebred in Divining Rod. There won't be a dry eye in the house if Divining Rod can do Barbaro proud.  

M is for "Maryland, My Maryland," the state song intoned by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club as the Preakness contenders take to the track. The line "Remember Carroll's sacred trust" gets me every time.

N calls to mind the "new shooters," the racing slang for Preakness horses who didn't contest the Kentucky Derby. Since the stats are very much in favor of Derby alumni, the new shooters typically have something to prove against the battle-tested veterans of the first jewel. Divining Rod has the most appeal of any in this category, while Bodhisattva and Tale of Verve face a particularly daunting task.

O stands for Old Hilltop, the nickname of Pimlico Race Course. The moniker derived from an elevated spot in the infield that provided a good vantage point to watch the races.

P symbolizes both the race name and the host track. "The Preakness" is named after the horse Preakness, who won the Dinner Party S. on the inaugural day of racing at Pimlico in 1870. Three years later, Pimlico's newly minted event for three-year-olds was dubbed the Preakness in his honor.

Q is for the quotable quips at the Alibi Breakfast.

R symbolizes the rebound candidates who were beaten at Churchill Downs, and now look for revenge on the Derby winner. Firing Line, Dortmund, Danzig Moon and Mr. Z can all be filed here.

S is for Stevens, as in Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who will ride in his 18th Preakness (a record according to the media guide jockey stats that go back to 1909). A three-time winner, he hopes that Firing Line will give him a fourth victory. The other "S" is Stall 40, the traditional spot allotted to the Derby winner during his sojourn at Pimlico.

T is for Tale of Verve, who audaciously tried to get into the Derby fresh off a maiden win. Failing to draw in as the second also-eligible, he will have no problem entering a less than capacity field for the Preakness.

U represents the dramatic U-turn regarding Mr. Z: ruled out of the Preakness on Sunday, he was the subject of a private sale to Calumet (per DRF’s Jay Privman) and entered Wednesday morning. "U" also stands for the U.S. Congress, which adjourned to watch the eagerly anticipated clash of Parole, Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree at Pimlico in 1877. Billed as "The Great Race," it became an iconic symbol of the track.

V is for the vane that will be painted with the Preakness winner's colors, in another venerable tradition. On a similarly historical note, "V" stands for Vanderbilt, as in Alfred G. The erstwhile president of Pimlico who orchestrated the Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race in 1938, Vanderbilt owned Maryland's storied Sagamore Farm, and bred and campaigned the legendary Native Dancer.

W refers to the Woodlawn Vase, celebrated as "the most valuable trophy in American sports." The Tiffany and Co. creation of 1860 was buried for its own protection during the Civil War, and after a few decades of serving as a prize for various races, found its permanent home as the Preakness trophy in 1917. The Preakness-winning owner used to keep the Vase for a year, but the custom changed after Native Dancer's victory in 1953 -- when Mrs. Alfred G. Vanderbilt didn't want custody of such an irreplaceable artifact. Winning owners have subsequently received a replica.

X marks the blank years in Preakness history. Not contested from 1891-93, the race was also held away from Pimlico for a number of years. It found a temporary home in New York, once at the old Morris Park (1890) and then at Gravesend (1894-1908), before its homecoming in 1909.

Y is for the potent Y chromosome of the Mr. Prospector sire line, responsible for nine of last 15 Preakness winners. Mr. Prospector is a paternal grandson of Native Dancer, himself a son of 1945 Preakness hero Polynesian.

Z refers to the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat, owner/breeder of American Pharoah. But in light of how close Firing Line came to upsetting the Derby favorite, there's another "Z" to keep in mind -- his owner, Arnold Zetcher.