In my excitement for tomorrow's big race, I find myself recalling my favorite all-time editions of the Preakness. There were many great ones over the years, in one of my favorite races, but one special running stands head and shoulders above the rest. 22 years ago today, the world witnessed the greatest Preakness ever run as two titans of the turf waged an epic struggle in which neither proud colt would give an inch to his excellent rival.
In fact, the 1989 Preakness was one of the greatest races ever run on an American racetrack. It brought together Sunday Silence, a horse that nobody other than Arthur Hancock III seemed to want, and Easy Goer, the juvenile champion, and a horse who was considered the chosen one from the day of his birth. Sunday Silence, who had nearly died from a viral infection as a weanling, and from a van accident as a juvenile, and had twice gone through auction unsold, was fresh off his Kentucky Derby win over his blue-blood rival. Easy Goer finished second in that muddy edition of the run for the roses as an overwhelming favorite. Before Louisville, it was well established that the powerful chestnut son of Alydar was a special horse, but with his win in the Derby, the west coast star, Sunday Silence, had emerged as the second superstar from the 1986 foal crop. The Preakness would be a showdown between the East Coast establishment and the West Coast upstart. The world was watching.
Easy Goer, trained by Claude McGaughey was once again made the odds-on favorite at 3-5, while Sunday Silence was again the clear second choice at 2-1. Because of the messy Churchill Downs surface, it seemed few people believed the result from two weeks earlier. There would be no excuses this time as the Preakness would be contested over a fast track at Pimlico Race Course.
Easy Goer's pilot, Pat Day, was careful not to give Sunday Silence too much room for comfort, and made a strong move on the far turn to go by his rival. At the same time the black horse from California was squeezed, and in a flash was suddenly two lengths behind. Pat Valenzuela aboard Sunday Silence, knew he could not let the big horse get away. He swung his charge to the outside and then something magical happened. Sunday Silence, using perhaps his greatest racing asset, an electrifying burst of speed, pounced like a cat on a mouse and was abreast of Easy Goer like a shot. The race was on. The entire Pimlico stretch became a racing battleground for two great horses desperate to prove that they were too good to lose. The only other time I have ever witnessed such an intense display was in the greatest of all the Affirmed and Alydar battles, the Belmont Stakes of 1978.
Both horses seemed to understand that this was what they were born to do. The two fantastic colts turned their heads slightly so that they could look at each other eyeball to eyeball as their riders vigorously urged them on. Sunday Silence, the tall and lanky near black colt, was on the outside, while the robust and muscular chestnut, Easy Goer, was scraping the paint on the Pimlico rail. The rest of the field had fallen away as to give the two superstars center stage. The record Preakness crowd of more than 90,000 roared in approval. Neither horse had one iota of give up; it was racing perfection encapsulated within a glorious quarter of a mile.
Easy Goer fought on gamely from the rail and gained a nose advantage in the stretch, but in the end, Sunday Silence edged in front by a whisker. The two had completed the Preakness trip together in 1:53 4/5, one of the fastest editions of the Middle Jewel ever run. Pat Day would claim foul for the leaning that Sunday Silence had done on Easy Goer during the magnificent stretch battle. The stewards correctly disallowed the claim. Easy Goer would gain a measure of revenge back at home in the Belmont Stakes, ending the Triple Crown attempt of his rival, but on that unforgettable afternoon of May 20, 1989, it was Sunday Silence who reigned supreme.