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The Preakness Trophy

Preakness Traditions

Date: 05/10/2018

The Preakness may be the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but it isn't second class when it comes to traditions. The race is actually older than the Kentucky Derby with the first running in 1873, but because it wasn't run in 1891-1893 the number of runnings is one less than the Derby. Although currently run two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and has been since 1969, the Preakness has been run before the Derby 11 times and on the same day as the Derby twice.

The Trophy

An honor guard carries the Woodlawn Vase and the trophies for the winning connections over to the winner's circle on Preakness day.

Created by Tiffany and Company in 1860 as a trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association, the Woodlawn Vase stands 34 inches tall and weighs 29 pounds, 12 ounces and is presented each year to the winning Preakness owner. In 1983, its value was assessed at $1 million which easily makes it the most valuable trophy in American sports.

Until 1953, winners were awarded possession of the vase until the following Preakness. That all changed when A. G. Vanderbilt's Native Dancer won it but his wife did not want to take on the immense responsibility of keeping the solid silver vase safe. Now the winning owner is awarded a $30,000 sterling silver replica while the original is on display at The Baltimore Museum of Art and brought to Pimlico under guard for the annual running of the Preakness.

Black-Eyed Susans to the Winner

The blanket of Black-Eyed Susans's given to the Preakness winner each year.

A long-standing Preakness tradition is to drape a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans across the shoulders of the winning horse. The black and yellow colors of the flowers are also the state colors and the color theme for the Preakness every year.

The 18x90 inch blanket takes three people two full days to create. First a layer of greenery is attached to a perforated spongy rubber base. Then more than 80 bunches of Viking poms are strung together on flocked wire and woven into holes in the base. The ends of the wire are snipped closely and the back of the entire blanket is covered with thick felt.

Because Black-Eyed Susans do not bloom until June in Maryland, Viking poms stand in for them now, although in the past they used daisies with the centers painted black to recreate the correct appearance. The blanket is then sprayed with water and refrigerated until it is presented to the winner on Preakness day.

The Cupola and Weather Vane

The old clubhouse cupola which is the Preakness winner's circle.

For a fashionable segment of racing fans from 1870 to 1966, there was no other place to be on Preakness day than the sprawling Victorian building known as the Old Clubhouse. Decorated with gleaming wood floors it included numerous sitting rooms, a wrap-around porch and was topped with an ornate cupola. The structure, which stood at the foot of the homestretch, was destroyed in June 1966 along with many irreplaceable pieces of memorabilia, paintings, and history. A replica of the destroyed building's cupola now sits in the infield and is used for the Preakness winner's circle celebration.

As soon as the Preakness winner has been declared official, a painter is lifted up to the top of the replica Old Clubhouse copula in the winner's circle by a cherry picker crane to paint the weather vane. The colors of the winner's silks and the horse's color are applied to the jockey and horse on the weather vane, and it remains that way until the next year's Preakness winner is crowned.

The practice began in 1909 after the original building's arrow-shaped weather vane was struck down by lightning. To replace it, the Maryland Jockey Club commissioned an ornamental ironworker to forge a vane in the form of a horse and rider. It was christened that spring by coating it with the colors of that year's winner, Effendi, and the tradition has continued ever since.

The Alibi Breakfast

The saddlecloths for the Preakness on display at the Alibi Breakfast.

The Alibi Breakfast is a Pimlico tradition that dates back to the 1930's. On the porch of the historic Clubhouse, owners, trainers, and press would discuss the horses over coffee each morning during training hours. Some of the greatest tales of racing ever to reach print were told on those mornings.

The tradition of the Preakness Alibi Breakfast started in the 1940's, a chance for the connections of Preakness entrants to solicit interesting and colorful race predictions. The event is held in the clubhouse dining room and each Preakness trainer is interviewed, often cracking jokes or making off-color comments. This time is also used for the Maryland Jockey Club to present awards to members of the media and others who have made significant contributions to the local racing industry.

Each year the Woodlawn Vase is on display along with the saddlecloths for the Preakness. Each owner of a Preakness entrant is given a small jockey statue painted with the colors of his or her silks as a memento.

The Official Drink

A Black-Eyed Susan vendor at Pimlico.

The traditional drink of the Preakness is called a Black-Eyed Susan of course. It is served at the Alibi Breakfast and to the fans at on Black-Eyed Susan day and Preakness day. The recipe has changed over the years, mostly based on which liquor company is the current sponsor, but the look, a pale yellow color, and fruity flavor has mostly stayed similar. In 2013 it was pink as part of the pink-out for breast cancer support, but it reverted to yellow the next year. It is served in a special glass with that year's logo and a list of all the Preakness winners, much like the Kentucky Derby does with the mint julep. The first souvenir glass was used in 1973, compared to 1938 for the Derby.

FYI - In 2009, a Black-Eyed Susan cost $8, in 2016 it was $10, and in 2018 it will be $12, which is still less than the $14 a mint julep will cost you at the Kentucky Derby.

Here are a few recipes for the Black-Eyed Susan that you can try, starting with the current offical one:

1 part Makers Mark Bourbon
1 part DeKuyper Peachtree
1 part Effen Vodka
2 parts orange juice
2 parts sour mix

Shake with ice and strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Mount Gay Eclipse rum
3/4 oz. triple sec
1 1/2 oz. orange juice
1 1/2 oz. pineapple juice

Build drink in that order in a glass with ice. Garnish with an orange slice and cherry. This was the best version in my opinion.

1 1/4 oz. Whiskey
3/4 oz. Vodka
3 oz. Sweet and Sour Mix
2 oz. Orange Juice

Fill a glass with shaved ice, add the liquors first, then top off with orange juice and sweet and sour mix. Stir and garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

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