Worst Preakness weather? Could be 1938
Matthais Daiger stayed close to the electric heater in his office under the clubhouse at Pimlico. Sure, it was Preakness Day, 1938. But the weather was dismal and cold, and it poured rain all morning. He told the Sun reporter who found him there it was the worst Preakness weather in the then-48-year history of the race.
"Daigler recalled that even the Preakness day in 1924 when Nellie Morse [the last filly to win the Preakness until Rachel Alexandra's victory in 2009] waded through a sea of mud to win, was not as bad as this," the Sun's George Dorsch reported.
"... 30,000 rain-soaked, bedraggled fans from all sections of the country, ranging from statesmen to day laborers ... saw William du Pont, Jr.'s Dauber ... win the forty-eighth renewal of the turf classic at Pimlico."
But it wasn't easy. Curtains of rain and mist obscured the backstretch. "Nellie Morse's day did have some sun after the race, but there's no letting up here," Daigler told Dorsch. "I don't know of any worse weather at any time before I became connected with the track." And he had been there for 40 years.
Hawkers and vendors were soaked. Tipsters were soaked. Race fans were soaked.
It wasn't all gloom, of course. The bigshots in the clubhouse were in a festive mood, Dorsch reported. There were ambassadors, the British Colonial Secretary of Bermuda, 150 senators and congressmen up from Washington for the big day. Railroad presidents and financiers munched on the luncheon spread.
Hollywood was represented, too. Among the celebrities was movie director Ernst Lubitsch ("Ninotchka," "To Be or Not To Be"). So was Myron Selznick, brother of David O. Selznick, the head of MGM Studios.
Dorsch went on for 10 long paragraphs listing the glitterati, and the high-born, horsey-set Marylanders.
"A matron," he wrote, "drenched from shoes to hat, recalled dismally how she, as a young girl, used to be brought to the Preakness in her father's coach; how it was parked in the infield, and how a luncheon, including vintage champagne, was spread on the lawn before the races."
They still do that, right?
"As she spoke, only the necessary employees were in the inclosure where sponsors of the race had expected thousands to gather."
So the races began. But few ventured out to the rails to watch. "Below the grandstand, hot-dog vendors and beer dispensers did a land-office business," Dorsch said. "Hundreds tried to stave off the cold with hot coffee. Everywhere the word was passed: 'As soon as the Preakness is run, it's home and a hot bath.'"
When Preakness post time approached, large numbers of fans, for the first time that day, left their shelter and crossed to the infield rail. "The rain came down heavier," the Sun observed. "A fine mist partially hid the backstretch ... Blacker became the skies. Hundreds of umbrellas on the terrace prevented a clear view of persons who stood behind. The rain increased. A mighty roar. The horses came tearing down the track. Another Preakness was being run."
And then it was over.
"Cold, shivering and drenched, many thousands of the disappointing crowd [45,000 had been expected] left hurriedly at the end of the race, declining to wait for the presentation of the historic Woodlawn Vase." The winner was Dauber (photo, right), appropriately caked in mud. But even he wanted to be somewhere else. Dorsch reported the horse "declined to allow the customary floral tribute to be placed around his neck, and was led away."
(Sun files, World Wide Photos, 1938 Preakness)