Tomorrow, the 138th Preakness Stakes, or the “Freakness” as it is sometimes affectionately known in Baltimore, will run at the Pimlico Race Course.
Whether you find yourself at the race sipping Black-Eyed Susans and wearing a pink taffeta dress that matches the flower on your hat, or funneling malt liquor and wearing black denim shorts that match the tattoo on your abdomen, you will be participating in the long Maryland tradition of thoroughbred horse racing. It’s a tradition that owes much of its rich history, and maybe even a bit of its optimistic future, to the pragmatism of Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt.
Margaret’s first son, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, was born in 1912. Mrs. Vanderbilt was hopeful that her boy would grow up to be a businessman and she had good reason to be bullish. Men on both sides of Alfred’s family had built huge companies (Bromo-Seltzer on her side and the New York Central Railroad on her husband’s side). Now widowed, Margaret was one of the wealthiest people in America…and this was “Gatsby” America, which we all now know (thanks, Baz) was the real deal.
Alfred, as it turned out, had other interests (such a thankless job, the parenting). “Since the first time I went to the races at Pimlico at the age of 9,” Mr. Vanderbilt once said, ”I have had this wonderful feeling about racing. I don’t go to the races because I just love horses. It’s like the person who goes to the circus and falls in love with the whole show, not just the elephants.”