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Rachel Alexandra Wins Preakness by 1 Length

BALTIMORE (AP) - Girls rule!
The best 3-year-old in the land just happens to be a filly named
Rachel Alexandra.
Jockey Calvin Borel all but guaranteed victory in the Preakness
Stakes and, boy, did she deliver, becoming the first filly in 85
years to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
A rangy bay - as big as most of the horses she beat - Rachel
Alexandra shot to the front Saturday and wasn't seriously
challenged until a late close by Kentucky Derby winner Mine That
Bird.
She led by a head at the quarter and half-mile poles. She
stretched it to a half-length at the three-quarters pole. She was
ahead by four lengths going down the stretch. In the end, the 9-5
favorite won by a length in her first race against the boys.
The win also validated Borel's decision to climb off Mine That
Bird and stay on the filly as her regular rider.
Now Borel may get a shot at a personal Triple Crown, if Rachel
Alexandra goes on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. The 1½-mile
race is the most grueling of the three.
"I'm not worried about nothing," he said. "It's going to take
a racehorse to beat her."
Rachel Alexandra had already beaten up on her own gender,
winning her five previous races by a combined 43½ lengths.
Musket Man finished third, as he did in the Derby, followed by
Flying Private and Big Drama.
Rachel Alexandra covered 1 3-16 miles in 1:55.08 and became the
first horse to win at Pimlico from the No. 13 post on the far
outside. She paid $5.60, $4.60 and $3.60. Mine That Bird returned
$6.60 and $4.80, while Musket Man paid $5 to show.
"I'm thrilled to death with the race my little horse ran,"
said Chip Woolley Jr., who trains Mine That Bird. "You have to
give that filly credit. She's a great one."
Rachel Alexandra earned $660,000 from the purse of $1.1 million.
Papa Clem was sixth, followed by Terrain, Luv Gov, General
Quarters, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile, Tone It Down and Take
the Points.
The last filly to win the Preakness was Nellie Morse in 1924.
Rachel Alexandra became the second filly to go off as the wagering
favorite and win. Whimsical at 8-5 odds was the first, in 1906.
Rachel Alexandra stumbled slightly leaving the gate, then stuck
her head in front at the first turn and refused to give way.
Her first challenge was to get rid of Big Drama, a persistent
presence from inside down the backside and into the final turn.
Once she shook him loose and opened up the four-length lead at the
top of the stretch, Mine That Bird made a run at her.
Borel sensed she was tiring, and took firm hold of the reins.
"I had to put the bit in her mouth because she was kind of
struggling," he said. "It kind of took a lot out of her."
Still, she had enough left at the end and crossed the finish
line to the cheers of 77,850 fans - the smallest crowd since 1983 -
at Pimlico.
"Awesome," said Bob Baffert, who trains Pioneerof the Nile.
"Rachel Alexandra is amazing. She took the heat and kept on
going."
The most impressive of Rachel Alexandra's performances was her
stunning victory by 20¼ lengths in the Kentucky Oaks, the day
before the Kentucky Derby.
This ending was far different from the last time a filly
challenged the boys. Eight Belles finished a gallant second in last
year's Kentucky Derby, then broke both front legs while galloping
past the finish line and was destroyed on the track.
This time, it was all cheers. No tears.
"Rachel Alexandra was great," trainer Todd Pletcher said.
"She took it right to them, led every step of the way. She
deserves a lot of credit."
Rachel Alexandra, marked by two white spots on her head, wasn't
even supposed to be in the Preakness. Her original owners, who
named the filly after a 13-year-old granddaughter, didn't nominate
her to the Triple Crown races, believing fillies should run only
against their own gender.
After the Oaks, Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson,
founder of Kendall-Jackson winery, and Harold McCormick.
They ponied up $100,000 to buy her a spot in the race, and the
gamble paid off.
"There was a lot of social criticism and doubt about whether
she was capable," Jackson said. "I think I would've taken some
heat if she hadn't performed well, so that takes some heat off my
shoulders."
Borel had total faith in the filly, making the unprecedented
decision to dump Mine That Bird after his stunning Derby victory at
50-1 odds.
"She's the best horse in the country right now, bar none," he
said.
The last filly to win a Triple Crown race was Rags to Riches,
who beat the Jackson-owned Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Her
victory was the first by a filly in that race in 102 years.
The start of the Preakness was delayed slightly when Big Drama
reared up in the gate and dumped his rider. Rachel Alexandra stood
at the opposite end, waiting patiently for the biggest test of her
life.
Unlike the Derby, Mine That Bird had a tougher trip with Mike
Smith, Borel's replacement, aboard. A light rain fell at the start
of the race, but it didn't turn the dirt track into the kind of
slop that he flew through to win at Churchill Downs.
"My hats off to her. She's a talented, talented mare," Smith
said. "Anyone else would have caved."
Borel crossed the finish line, wagging his right index finger to
signal their No. 1 status.
"Turning for home, I knew I was home free," he said.
Fans hoping for a rematch in the Belmont will have to wait a few
days for a decision, although Mine That Bird will definitely run.
"I'll depend on her. The horse always tells you if they're
ready," Jackson said. "Would we love to run? Yes. Could she win?
We think so. We've already shown she can run with colts. It's a
question now of her best interest."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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