The Oft-Forgotten ‘Great Race’ At Pimlico That Wasn’t A Preakness

When Preakness revelers stream through the gates of Pimlico this weekend, many of them will walk by a golden outline of three old-timey horses stretched out in full flight, heads apart. That logo isn’t just a generic nod to Pimlico’s long history, but surprisingly, it’s not commemorating a Preakness of old, either.

The three-horse gold leaf outline is based on a Currier and Ives print depicting a three-way match race held in 1877 between Parole, Ten Broeck, and Tom Ochiltree. The contest that became known as “The Great Race” was one in an endless series of horse racing showdowns with the same plotline: East versus West.

Tom Ochiltree was an Eastern blueblood, winner of the 1875 Preakness and one of the last offspring of the great stallion Lexington. He came to The Great Race the winner of the Dixie (then two miles) and the 2 ½ mile Annual Stakes at three, winner of the Baltimore Cup and Jockey Club Handicap at four, and the Westchester Cup at five. The startlingly-large colt was named champion 3-year-Old in 1875 and co-champion older horse the next year. He had already beaten Parole twice at the time of The Great Race, despite carrying a higher weight in both contests. R Wyndham Walden, the trainer who dominated the Maryland circuit at the time, trained for owner and tobacco heir George Lorillard.

Ten Broeck was the invader from the West (or what was, in 1877, considered “the West”). He came into The Great Race as a 5-year-old, at which time he was undefeated for the season. He had wins in the Phoenix Hotel Stakes and Louisville Cup to his credit and had already been through one match race against the filly Mollie McCarty, which he won handily. He was co-champion older horse in 1876 and 1877. Trained by Harry Colston, he was owned by Frank Harper.

George’s brother Pierre Lorilard was the owner of Parole who, somewhat unusually for the time, was a gelding. He had been running at the top handicap levels, and while he had been successful in late 1877, he wasn’t considered in the same league as his two rivals. After the Great Race, Parole would run several more years, making a transition to the English turf, where he beat Isonomy in the Newmarket Handicap, upsetting the horse many considered the best in the country. He also crossed the wire first in the Liverpool Cup while carrying 131 pounds. (Those who have followed the recent Kentucky Derby disqualification will note that objections in big races were evidently not unusual in those days – Isonomy’s owner “issued a challenge to run the race over” after his horse was defeated, and Parole would later be disqualified from his Liverpool victory.)

The match race was big money in 1870s terms: Each owner put up $500 and the track added another $1,000. The Maryland Jockey Club paid the travel expenses both ways for Ten Broeck. Parole was considered the underdog in the three-way fight and Ten Broeck was the heavy favorite.

The race was so eagerly anticipated that Congress adjourned so its members could take a special train north from D.C. to watch the contest. Some 20,000 people poured through Pimlico’s gates to see the contest.

“A dense mass of humanity crowded every available foot of ground within the inclosure, while the space reserved for carriages was thronged with those who stood on the wheels, and even on the backs of the horses, to get a glimpse of the finish of such a historical struggle for equine mastery,” wrote the Baltimore Sun after the race.

One journalist would note that so many people bet on the race that bookmakers ran out of tickets. Hotels ran out of rooms. Those who came in from Kentucky were said to be especially free with their money as they supported Ten Broeck. This, many seemed to believe, would resolve the age-old question of whether Kentucky horses were really better than their Eastern cousins, and allegedly, Kentucky race fans seemed eager to throw their money behind the concept.

The race, which was set at 2 1/2 miles, got underway with Ten Broeck setting the pace and Tom Ochiltree tucking in behind, while Parole pulled in third. Halfway through, Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree began trading the leads, unable to shake off each other. Jockey George Barbee finally turned Parole loose with a quarter mile to go, and Parole passed his challengers in the space of a dozen strides.

Although the horses are shown a few inches apart in the painting, the 1961 Currier and Ives image seems to represent the middle of the race, rather than the end. By the wire, Parole was four lengths ahead of Ten Broeck and 14 ahead of Tom Ochiltree, whose rider pulled him up when he saw the contest was lost.

Spectators swarmed past police barricades and flooded the track, lifting Barbee off Parole, parading him around the grounds on their shoulders and filling his riding helmet with money.

The owners of Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree would later blame their losses on coughs they allegedly exhibited before the race. Both stallions retired to stud duty at the end of the year, though neither became drastically influential on the breed. Parole lived until the day before his 30th birthday and upon news of his death in 1903, the Baltimore Sun reprinted its recap of The Great Race in his honor. All three horses were later inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

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