Today marks the 97th running of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD. The Black-Eyed Susan is the headlining race for three-year-old fillies, or young female horses, that occurs on the eve of the Preakness Stakes. It covers 9 furlongs — or 1 1/8 mile of track — and is named after the state flower of Maryland.
A furlong is a unit of measurement that’s equal to 220 yards. The measurement has historically been used to measure farmland, with one furlong being the length of a furrow, or a channel plowed between rows of crops in a 10-acre field. When horse racing become popular in England in the 16th century, furlongs were then applied to racecourses. The term is now mainly used only in relation to distances in horse racing.
This weekend’s Preakness Stakes is the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, a series of three races in May and June. The Preakness, the main event of race weekend, welcomes both male and female horses, while the Black-Eyed Susan race is for fillies only. In 2020, a filly named Swiss Skydiver made history by becoming the sixth filly to win the Preakness with a time of 1:53.28. It was the second fastest 1 3/16-mile Preakness on record behind Secretariat’s 1:53 in 1973. Other fillies to have joined the Preakness winner’s circle include Flocarline (1903), Whimsical (1906), Rhine Maiden (1915), Nellie Morse (1924), and Rachel Alexandra (2009).
Each leg of the Triple Crown has its own filly race day, starting with the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and wrapping up with the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Stakes in early June. Unofficially, this series is called the “Filly Triple Crown” by some, and occasionally the Filly Triple Tiara. Stakes races are reserved for premium horses, carry the most prestige, and have the biggest purses. Each stakes race has its own requirements, such as the age or gender of the horses, and owners must pay a fee to enter which becomes part of the prize money. All of the horses racing in Black-Eyed Susan and the Preakness Stakes must be three years old.
The three-year-old age limit means that any horse has only one opportunity to win in its lifetime. Racehorses reach physical maturity at age four or five, but most have retired from racing by then. At age three, they are generally old enough to race fast but young enough to add the element of uncertainty where the winner can’t easily be predicted.
A cloud of controversy hangs over the races this weekend. One of the favorites to win the Black-Eyed Susan is Beautiful Gift, which has been trained by Bob Baffert. Another Baffert-trained horse named Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. An investigation is pending, and Preakness officials announced earlier this week that they are allowing Medina Spirit, along with Baffert’s other horses, to race at Pimlico, subject to additional pre-race testing and rigorous monitoring. The results of the additional drug testing could take several weeks. In the meantime, the show must go on, and Iced Latte, The Grass is Blue, Adventuring, and Beautiful Gift are top favored horses to win today’s Black-Eyed Susan. Experts favor Medina Spirit with 9-5 odds of winning tomorrow’s Preakness Stakes, along with Concert Tour, another Baffert horse, and Midnight Bourbon.