News & Politics

Is it “the Preakness” or Just “Preakness”? A Washingtonian Investigation.

People are surprisingly divided.

Photograph by Office of the Maryland Governor/Flickr.

Last Friday, a consequential debate erupted in Washingtonian’s newsroom: When referring to Maryland’s rowdiest horse race, does one say “the Preakness” or just “Preakness”? 

Our staff quickly split into camps, though most said they grew up simply saying “Preakness”—as in, “I’m going to Preakness.” On the other hand, the race’s own website says “the Preakness,” as do most news organizations. The debate became heated, on the level of “is this dress gold or blue?” or “does the movie Shazaam exist?” The sentence “am I losing my mind?” was typed at least once. 

To settle the question, our social media team created a Twitter poll, in which 141 souls voted. 62% said it’s “the Preakness,” 31% said it’s just “Preakness,” and 7% said they use both. It’s a clear edge for “the Preakness,” but the split was still substantial—and we couldn’t find a clear explanation of why.

Then, one of our colleagues put forth a theory: Jacob Raim, our director of digital products, believes that “the Preakness” is the race itself, while “Preakness” is the debauchery that surrounds it. “I think that attending the day at the races and drinking and having a good time is ‘Preakness,’ and that the actual race is ‘the Preakness Stakes,’” he said. “Like, ‘I’m going to Preakness’ implies that I’m going to the infield and partying.”

To test this conjecture, we reached out to (the?) Preakness itself. The spokesperson’s response seemed to dash Raim’s theory: “ ‘The Preakness’ or just ‘Preakness’ refers to the entire weekend. It encapsulates the racing, entertainment, hospitality and community spirit of the event,” she wrote. When we followed up to ask if the race has an official position on what it should be called, she replied, “There does not seem to be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in this case.” 

But buried in that email was, in a way, the answer: “However you choose to refer to it, there is no doubt that the Preakness is second to none!” There it is: The Preakness. In an official statement. Case closed.

Still, not everyone on our staff is convinced. “All I know is that you’d get laughed at by frat boys in College Park if you said ‘the’ Preakness,” says photo director Anna Marina Savvidis. Lifestyle editor Daniella Byck agrees: “I’m sure ‘the Preakness’ is the proper way to say it. But if you’re doing it right, Preakness and proper don’t really align.”

Sylvie McNamara
Staff Writer