Is there such a thing as Preakness Fever?
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
Derby Fever is a virus of the soul that plagues dreamers throughout the world. This affliction, which creates delusions among those who should know better, has been diagnosed from California to Dubai, from Japan to New York, with occasional flare-ups in England, Ireland and France. It begins in autumn, spreads throughout winter and early spring and peaks on the first Saturday in May.
Preakness Fever? Never heard of that one. There is no official name for the urge that makes Maryland-based horsemen enter overmatched animals in the second leg of the Triple Crown. It's a local concern, of little interest anywhere but Baltimore.
The Kentucky Derby is first, the Preakness is a distant second; it's the natural order of things. Every year, many overseas journalists come to Louisville to experience the fever dream that is America's Race. You never see them at Pimlico.
The old joke among Marylanders is that the Derby is the race they run before the Preakness, but you rarely hear it anymore. Even in the days when Maryland racing mattered, the Preakness was only the sequel. Yet although it is forever destined to be No. 2, Pimlico's main event does have some advantages over the circus at Churchill.
Here are Eddie Mac's top 10 reasons to prefer the Preakness to the Derby. I have to admit that I don't, but after ripping Pimlico for being run down in a column last year, I'm trying to be nice.
1. Cheaper lodging. Maryland does not gouge tourists savagely during Preakness week. Although rooms can be tough to get, rates are not tripled, a sacred rite of spring for Derby week in Louisville.
2. Better food. Grits are not a staple of Chesapeake cuisine, and the great crabcakes are worth the trip. Another bonus: You don't hear waiters and waitresses saying "Thank yewwww," as they do in the 'Ville.
3. More wagering action. On Derby Day at Churchill Downs, where there are 45 or 50 minutes between races, they don't offer simulcasting. On Preakness Day, you can bet a bunch of other tracks at Pimlico.
4. A kinder, gentler crowd. The infield mob at Churchill Downs has the atmosphere of a barbarian feast; the revelers at Pimlico have their deranged moments but on the whole are more civilized.
5. Less hype. The Derby never gets to be old hat but the experience is exhausting. Too much insanity wears you out in a hurry. The Baltimore area is into the Preakness but the event doesn't overwhelm the city.
6. Easier race to handicap. The Derby is one of the trickiest races in the world to get right. The Preakness offers less chance of a monster score but is much easier to predict.
7. Better city. Although Churchill Downs is far more attractive than Pimlico, Louisville can't match Baltimore. As the saying goes, Churchill Downs is a racetrack in search of a city; Baltimore is a city in search of a racetrack. True, even though I read that funky Old Hilltop has been spruced up considerably this year.
8. More distinguished dead people. Whose grave would you rather visit, Edgar Allan Poe's or Colonel Sanders'?
9. Better bodies of water. The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, or the Ohio River? C'mon.
10. Better fish. Baltimore has the National Aquarium; I've been to Louisville 15 times and never heard of a place where major sea creatures are on display.
Now, let me sing "Maryland, My Maryland" and make my exit. See you in Crabtown.