Black culture was front and center at the annual Preakness Stakes
TheGrio was on the scene for the kickoff of the two-day event at the Pimlico Race Course, which saw performances from Megan Thee Stallion and Lauryn Hill.
Black culture was front and center at this year’s Preakness Stakes, the annual horse racing event that has been held in Baltimore, Maryland since 1873.
TheGrio was on the scene for the kickoff of the two-day event on May 20 at the Pimlico Race Course, where the 98th George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes trophy was won by the racehorse Interstatedaydream, owned by Flurry Racing Stables.
The Grade II American Thoroughbred horse race was renamed in 2020 to honor George E. Mitchell, who was a well-known community leader in Park Heights, a predominantly Black neighborhood where the Preakness Stakes is held each year.
Preakness is the second leg of the Triple Crown of American horse racing, which occurs annually two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont Stakes in New York.
Attendees of the Preakness Stakes — many of whom were Black — wore their finest garb for the horserace extravaganza. Women donned floral, bright-colored dresses and rocked stylish fascinators to compliment their ‘dos, while the gents sported their best polo-inspired two-piece suits.
Beyond the fashion and inside the Chalet VIP suite, theGrio also spotted Black luminaries and leaders from Baltimore’s political elite like Mayor Brandon Scott, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby. Also in attendance were two of the news media’s most prominent Black women, CBS anchor Gayle King and theGrio’s very own White House Correspondent April Ryan. Guests were also treated to a culinary experience catered by famed Black chef Marcus Samuelsson.
There was an obvious leaning into Black culture on behalf of the Preakness Stakes, which is owned by 1/ST, ranging from the event’s invited guests and partners to its musical performances. The Preakness Stakes experience was curated by former Def Jam Recordings executive Kevin Liles, now chairman and CEO of 300 Entertainment, and Mayor Scott.
The creative team curated an impressively Black musical lineup that included performances from DJ D-Nice, Megan Thee Stallion and headliner Lauryn Hill. The national anthem was performed by the musical group WanMor — which consists of the sons of Boys II Men’s Wanya Morris.
While horse racing may not traditionally be associated with Black culture — as it is overwhelmingly white — historically, Black jockeys dominated the sport.
As The Baltimore Sun reported, in the early 1800s, many of the jockeys were African American, though they were enslaved. After Black jockeys were emancipated following the Civil War, however, white jockeys went out of their way to push them out of the sport due to the success and earnings of Black riders. African-American jockeys were attacked by their white counterparts while competing and were eventually denied licenses to ride.
While the racial discrimination in the sport was not explicitly acknowledged in this year’s Preakness Stakes, it provided a historical backdrop that was hard to ignore.
In a statement provided to theGrio, 1/ST Experience CEO Jimmy Vargas explained that the company intentionally partnered with Liles and Mayor Scott to “reimagine” the entertainment experience for Preakness.
“Preakness 147 was the ultimate celebration of Baltimore in the vision of Belinda Stronach, reimagining entertainment, art, lifestyle, music, culinary happenings and community built on optimism and enthusiasm for Preakness’s lifelong home,” said Vargas.
“In consultation with Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore native son Kevin Liles, we leveraged the Preakness platform to highlight and impact culture with both local and international talent unlike ever before.
He added, “1/ST is committed to expanding the Preakness’s impact on the community year-round, and growing on what we created this year with Preakness 147.”
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