More than 107,000 people came to a horse racing track in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland Saturday to see the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes, and perhaps witness the making of a champion. The Preakness is the second of the three horse races making up what Americans call the Triple Crown.
As a trumpet blasted the familiar clarion call of horse racing, fans of the sport watched to see if Animal Kingdom, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, would capture the second leg of the sport’s Triple Crown.
It is an uncommon achievement, occurring only 11 times since 1919. And it will not happen this year. Animal Kingdom could not catch Shackleford, a three-year-old chestnut colt who won the 136th running of the Preakness with a time of 1 minute, 56 and 47 one-hundredths seconds.
Shackleford’s jockey, Jesus Castanon, says he knew his horse would win as he rounded the last stretch.
“When they asked me to pick it up, I can feel my horse get bigger and he went on and do his business and it’s just emotional,” said Castanon.
The winning colt was named after the Shackleford Islands, a retreat that features wild horses off the coast of North Carolina. But Shackleford proved anything but wild Saturday, determined to hold on to his lead in front of one of the largest audiences in Preakness history.
Jockey Castanon hails from Mexico, where he and his family owned racehorses in Mexico City. His father passed away last year, and Castanon was overflowing with emotion at the end of the race.
“When I passed the wire, he just came to me," he said. "I know he was up there watching me.”
By coincidence, Mexico was this year’s host country for the International Pavilion, a big tent located at the racetrack’s finish line where diplomats and leaders of the horse industry can socialize.
Mexico's ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan said he was proud that his country played such a big role in the race.
“I think it speaks volumes to the contributions that Mexican jockeys and Mexican workers and the backstretches of most of the racecourse in the United States play in this important industry,” he said.
Festive crowds wearing suits, sundresses and ornate hats enjoyed a beautiful day at Pimlico. Race-goers experienced the Maryland track at its finest, eating the food, listening to the music, and most-importantly, admiring the horses.
Colt Animal Kingdom finished second, with Astrology a close third.
And when the last jewel of the Triple Crown - the Belmont Stakes - comes around in June, it will be any horse’s race to win.