One of the greatest races in the history of the American turf was the second of the epic four race rivalry between the legendary Sunday Silence and powerful Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness. The classic matchup of East versus West, the blue blood horse versus the not so blue blooded horse, the wise old trainer versus the new kid on the block. It was a chess game played out on dirt with Pat Day on Easy Goer moving early in the race which was uncharacteristic for the late running 2 year old champion, only to be countered on the turn by Pat Valenzuela as Sunday Silence was more agile than his counterpart and navigated the bends more adroitly. Turning into the homestretch, it was just these two champion racehorses, Sunday Silence using his momentum to gain a head advantage as Pat Day went to work on Easy Goer who was skimming the rail. They grimly battled through the Pimlico stretch with the 98896 fans in attendance screaming their encouragement. At the wire it was Sunday Silence holding on by a desperate nose over the big chestnut colt to his inside that never stopped giving his all yet still could not get by his determined nemesis.
That was then.
This is now.
The only things in common it seems the 2021 Preakness will have with the 1989 version is it will be run at the same distance of 1 3/16 over the old hilltop course, they will hand out the Woodland Vase to the winner and Wayne Lukas is running a horse with no chance.
The 2021 Preakness won’t be an epic race, the participants are mostly ordinary, the two favorites are both trained by the same person and the Kentucky Derby first-place finisher fittingly isn’t even bedded down in the stall designated in the Pimlico stakes barn for the winner of that race. No this is a race destined to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. For the shame of a once proud industry. For the wanton indifference shown by its leadership to ensure integrity and fairness matter. For the pathetic regulatory set up which creates far more problems than it solves. For the greed of owners and trainers whose “win at all costs” attitudes have created and emboldened super trainers and “too big to fail” stables that use attorneys as a battering ram anytime they might be in jeopardy of consequences. For the embarrassment of all the other participants in the sport, dragged down in guilt by association fashion by the televised blathering of the “face of the industry” and also in no small part by the silence of those that said nothing. For the bettors who turned their backs and walked away, finally saying they have had enough.
Looking back at that Wide World of Sports telecast from 1989 one thought keeps resonating with me. I’m just relieved the great Jim McKay won’t be forced to cover this empty Preakness, that he isn’t having to suffer seeing the sport he loved so dearly be destroyed from within.