Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big Brown's Party at Pimlico

Today is a pivotal day in the world of horse racing.

The Preakness Stakes -- the second jewel in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown -- will be held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore this afternoon. The race is scheduled for approximately 6:15 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised by NBC.

Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown needs to win today and then needs to win the Belmont Stakes next month to do something no horse has accomplished in 30 years -- capture the fabled Triple Crown.

If this were the world of the television sitcom, the Preakness would be the middle child.

Horse racing fans always watch the Kentucky Derby. It is the first of the three, and it perpetuates the traditions of generations -- in much the same fashion as Wimbledon does for tennis.

And the Belmont is the baby of the family. It receives attention -- and pressure -- only when the first two have done their job and produced a legitimate prospect to sweep all three.

Otherwise, attention and TV viewership are reduced. Yet the Belmont still makes noteworthy television for its community's tree-lined streets and historic churches on Long Island. It can still entertain, if nothing else.

Like Jan Brady of TV's "The Brady Bunch," the Preakness is considered neither as significant as the first nor as appealing as the last, even though it is equally as important.

One could hardly blame the operators of Pimlico and the promoters of the Preakness for muttering in frustration, "Kentucky! Kentucky! Kentucky!" Like many middle children, the Preakness has struggled at times to find its niche.

But this year the Preakness might have some help.

Big Brown, they are saying, is practically a sure thing to win. Gary West of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says Big Brown is so good that winning today's race is almost a foregone conclusion.

"Only circumstances can defeat Big Brown," proclaims West, "and even they will need some help."

West makes a compelling case for Big Brown's talent.

He points out that Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby in only his fourth start. No horse has done that since 1915, which was four years before Sir Barton (pictured at right) became racing's first Triple Crown winner.

And he won from post position #20. No horse had done that since 1929.

Of course, we've seen quite a few near-misses in the 30 years since the last Triple Crown winner (Affirmed). Since 1978, we've seen 10 horses win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to lose the Belmont Stakes.

And we've seen some can't-miss Kentucky Derby winners (for example, heavily favored Barbaro, who came up lame two years ago) who didn't win the Preakness.

Childs Walker, of the Baltimore Sun, says Pimlico is "all abuzz" over Big Brown.

"Every time the horse moved, heads turned and cameras fired," writes Walker. "One reporter said it was like covering Tiger Woods."

Maybe this is, as one of the trainers suggested, Big Brown's party.

Well, Woods has won golfing's Grand Slam. After 30 years, it's time another thoroughbred won the Triple Crown.

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