The Preakness is a horse race that attracts thousands of people to the Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore each May. But once every four years, there is a different kind of race in Maryland, one that stirs the interest of Free Staters even more than the run for the Black-Eyed Susans. It's the run for the governor's office, and here's the morning line on next year's race, as seen by one political handicapper.

THE GOVERNOR'S SWEEPSTAKES. In two heats, A four-year handicap for 21-years old and up. Purse: $25,000 added. (Last two winners were big loser.)

The Democratic Runoff

BLAIR LEE III. The morning line favorite. Nice debut. Good breeding. Fits here.

THEODORE H. VENETOULIS. Hard hitter. Fresh. In shape. Late foot.

STENY H. HOYER. Start good. Keeps dropping. Looking for spot. May fold in stretch.

FRANCIS W. BURCH. Big money here. Dull form. In shape. Last okay.

WILLIAM D. SCHAEFER. Doubtful starter. Won driving. Holds his form. May be ready.

WALTER ORLINSKY. Hard to guage. Easy winner in cheaper. Wants money. Solid form.

HARRY R. HUGHES. Sleeper type. Makes debut. Been away. Fresh. Consider.

LOUIS L. GOLDSTEIN. Eccentric form. Blocked in last. In and out. Looking for spot.

The Republican Runoff

ROBERT PASCAL. Makes debut. Big winner in cheaper.Fits here. Early leader in light action.

LAWRENCE HOGAN.Been away. Blocked in last. Holds his form. Capable when fit.

J. GLENN BEALL. Nosed in richer stake. Solid form.In and out. Been away.

LOUISE GORE. Badly beaten in last start. Looking for spot.

JOHN W. HARDWICKE. Who? Early footing. Won in cheaper. Not at this distance.

GILBERT GUDE. Possible added starter. Could take it all. Solid form. Been away.

CHARLES McC. MATHIAS. Unlikely starter. Could be odds-on favorite. Would be drop in class. Backers dreaming.

GEORGE BEALL. Sleeper type. Hard hitter. Late foot. Wants money.

JAMES P. GLESON. Eccentric form. Hard to guage. Underrated. Hard hitter.

With the start of this race still 10 months away, a handicapper might offer these current odds:

DEMOCRATS: Lee, 2-4; Schaefer, 11-5; Venetoulis, 7-2; Burch, 7-1; Hoyer, 10-1; Orlinsky, 15-1; Goldstein, 20-1; Hughes, 50-1.

REPUBLICANS: Glenn Beall, 2-1; Pascal, 3-1; Hogan, 5-1; Gore, 20-1; Hardwicke, 100-1. Possible added starters: Mathias, 2-5; Gude, 2-1; George Beall, 5-1; Gleason, 10-1.

Virtually every Democrat, with the exception of the candidates who can't afford to be candid publicly, concedes that if the gubernatorial primary were held today, Acting g Gov. Lee would win it.

But those same odds-makers are quick to point out that the election isn't today, but next year, and events in the coming 10 months could virtually turn the odds upside down.

On the Republican side, as one party leader puts it, "everyone is holding back, waiting for a Messiah." It is that hope-against-hope that causes Republicans to continue to mention. Mathias and Gude, despite repeated denials of interest by those two popular national figures.

Hoyer, the state Senate president, guesses that Republicans are "sitting back hoping the Democrats will commit suicide."

There is precedent for that hope by the GOP. In 1966, for example, Tom Finan, choice of the Democratic organization, squared off in a blood-letting primary against Carlton Sickles, a liberal insurgent, and George Mahoney, a conservative causist ("your home is your castle"). Mahoney won, and the splintered Democrats permitted a lightly regarded Republican, Spiro T. Agnew, to be elected governor.

One influential Democrat sees a possible repeat of that scenario next year with Lee as Finan, Venetoulis as Sickles and Burch as Mahoney. If you accept that analogy, Burch would win the primary and lose the general election.

That same Democrat, however, doesn't think Burch will win the primary, but nonetheless believes that Pascal, the Anne Arundel County executive, could beat either Lee or Venetoulis.

"Lee needs to be a Jerry Ford after Nixon, a regular fellow," the Democrat went on. "Instead, he comes off like a character in the second act of a Noel Coward play. If he doesn't change, if he doesn't project the regular guy image, he's dead."

While most of the candidates already are making speeches about the need to perform the state's political image, following the conviction of Marvin Mandel on political corruption charges, one of the ex-governor's codefendants, Irvin Kovens, detects little sentiment for change.

Kovens, who is likely to be in the slammer when the votes are counted next fall, said four candidates for governor already have come to him for advice. He won't name them, acknowledging that it might not help their campaigns, but as the Democrat's premier fund-raiser, he's prepaerd to donate his time and money again next year.

"I don't know who can afford it better," Kovens growled. "I don't think an active candidate would want to visit someone who is sequested (jailed)," Kovens conceded, "but I can still help. I have lots of friends and relatives who can write checks, and I can write checks from jail too."