BALTIMORE (AP) - This must be one special filly.
Rachel Alexandra is adding a dose of girl power to Saturday's
Preakness Stakes, taking on a field of 12 colts for the first time
in her 3-year-old life.
The tall, rangy filly has inspired uncommon faith from her
owners, unusual loyalty from her jockey and early backing from the
race's oddsmaker, all while carrying the hopes of a fading industry
desperately seeking a star.
Her mere entry in the Preakness is a surprise. Fillies don't
usually take on colts at the top level of racing because the boys
are bigger, faster and stronger, and Rachel Alexandra's new owners
- who purchased her just last week - had to pay $100,000 above the
entry fee because she wasn't nominated to any of the Triple Crown
races. Her previous owners had expected her to compete strictly
against her own gender.
But she's clobbered the other girls. And she's larger than the
Kentucky Derby winner.
Rachel Alexandra has won five consecutive races by a combined
43½ lengths, virtually lapping the field and drawing comparisons to
legendary fillies Ruffian and Winning Colors.
Now she's trying to achieve a feat unmatched since 1924, when
Nellie Morse was the last of four fillies to win the 134-year-old
Only 10 have tried since then, the last being Excellent Meeting
in 1999. She was pulled up by the jockey as a precaution and didn't
finish the race.
In 1980, Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk finished second in
the Preakness, and in 1988, Winning Colors followed up her Derby
win with a third place in the Preakness. Winning Colors was the
last filly to run as the race favorite, at 2-1 odds.
On Wednesday, Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli made Rachel
Alexandra the 8-5 morning-line favorite after a field of 13 was
entered. The filly drew the far outside No. 13 post position.
"It's beautiful. She's going to be able to get position," said
Scott Blasi, assistant to her trainer Steve Asmussen.
D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer who saddled Winning
Colors, believes Rachel Alexandra is a perfect candidate to take on
That's because she has already dominated her fellow females, she
has a front-running style so they'll have to catch her if they can,
and her pedigree suggests she can handle the 1 3-16-mile distance.
"She is definitely the one to beat," Lukas said.
Also helping Rachel Alexandra is the easy campaign she's enjoyed
leading up to the Preakness. She's run four times this year and is
coming off a smashing 20¼-length victory in the Derby eve Kentucky
At the same time, her male counterparts were beating themselves
up trying to earn enough money to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky
Derby. Those that succeeded had a rough trip in the mud on the
first Saturday in May, with only 50-1 winner Mine That Bird flying
through the muck.
"She hasn't even been asked yet to run (hard) in any of her
races," Lukas said. "She's got a big advantage, plus she's very,
Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times, will saddle Flying
Private and Luv Gov on Saturday.
"I would like to think we can beat her," he said. "Reality
Rachel Alexandra's presence apparently struck enough fear in
rival owners that they threatened to flood the field with marginal
colts to keep her out - the field has a 14-horse limit.
Cooler heads and a sense of fair play eventually prevailed.
"The controversy really helped," said David Fawkes, who trains
Big Drama. "You can say it was poor sportsmanship, but press is
good, even if it's bad press."
Having Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness could provide a
much-needed boost to a struggling sport that attracts the public's
attention for five weeks every spring. The last filly to make big
news was Eight Belles, who finished second in last year's Derby
then broke down after the finish line and had to be euthanized on
The 2009 Kentucky Derby's television ratings were the highest in
17 years, and people are still buzzing about Mine That Bird's
stunning last-to-first dash.
Lukas believes Rachel Alexandra could have the same effect on
"It'll help us a lot," he said. "Half the population in
America is already under her umbrella, that's the women. They're
all pulling for her."
After her Kentucky Oaks victory on May 1, Rachel Alexandra was
purchased by Harold McCormick and Jess Jackson, who owns
Stonestreet Stable and founded Kendall-Jackson winery. She was
transferred to the barn of Asmussen, who trained two-time horse of
the year Curlin.
Mine That Bird's trainer says bring her on.
"Obviously, Mr. Asmussen is a great trainer and if he feels
that the filly is up to it and ready to be taken to task, I'm fine
with that," Bennie Woolley Jr. said.
Derek Ryan, who trains Musket Man, the Derby's third-place
finisher, is undeterred by her presence.
"The more the merrier," he said. "I'm not worried about
anybody else in the field."
Neither is jockey Calvin Borel, whose heart belongs to Rachel
He elected to stay on as the filly's regular rider for the
Preakness, dumping his mount on Derby winner Mine That Bird - a
virtually unheard of move.
Borel said simply: "She's a once-in-a-lifetime horse."
The field, from the rail out, is Big Drama (10-1), Mine That
Bird (6-1), Musket Man (8-1), Luv Gov (50-1), Friesan Fire (6-1),
Terrain (30-1), Papa Clem (12-1), General Quarters (20-1),
Pioneerof the Nile (5-1), Flying Private (50-1), Take the Points
(30-1), Tone It Down (50-1) and Rachel Alexandra (8-5).