Saturday, May 16, 2009

2009 The Preakness Stakes Runs Today

The Preakness Stakes is an American Grade I stakes race 1-3/16 mile (1.91 km) thoroughbred horse race for three-year-old horses, held on the third Saturday in May each year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57 kg); fillies 121 lb (55 kg). The Preakness Stakes has been termed "The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans" because a blanket of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta, the state flower of Maryland) is traditionally placed around the winner's neck.

Filly will be fabulous in Preakness Stakes

By Mike Brunker

BALTIMORE - The 134th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday is dripping with intrigue, with the top four finishers in the Kentucky Derby spoiling for a rematch, jockey Calvin Borel abandoning the Derby winner and a couple of horse owners engaging in backroom machinations worthy of Boss Tweed.

But there is only one headline for this race, and it is that the fabulous filly Rachel Alexandra will make her first start against the males in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

I’ve also instructed our sports editors to start working on clever headlines for after the race that go something like this: “Filly fantastic! Rachel Alexandra captures the Preakness.” That’s because she won’t just run against the boys, she will beat them.

Rachel Alexandra, the 8-to-5 morning line favorite in the race, is a rare bird. She’s as calm and smart as a thoroughbred racehorse can be and has the high cruising speed of a Maserati in fifth gear.

And the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is on the verge of joining an even more exclusive club: If she wins on Saturday, she would become just the fifth filly to win the Preakness and the first in 85 years, since Nellie Morse bested 14 rivals in 1924.

The biggest question surrounding Rachel Alexandra is just how good she is.

As Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas noted Thursday at the Pimlico stakes barn, nobody knows because she really hasn’t been tested since she blossomed late last year. After running second in the Pocahontas Stakes on Nov. 1, she has reeled off five straight stakes victories, culminating in a jaw-dropping 20 ¼-length triumph in the Kentucky Oaks, the 3-year-old fillies’ equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.

More impressive than the margin of victory was the way she did it. Borel never moved his hands from the reins as she surged away from her overmatched rivals. He was carrying a whip, but on this trip it was just for decoration.

“I don’t think Rachel Alexandra, standing there in her stall, knows how good she is,” Lukas said jerking his thumb in the filly’s general direction.

The rest of us should have a better idea after Saturday, as Rachel Alexandra will likely have to work for her glory this time.

The biggest hurdle she’ll face will be in the form of a dozen well-muscled and accomplished 3-year-old colts and geldings, including Derby winner Mine That Bird and the three horses who chased him across the finish line in Louisville, Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem. Toss in beaten Derby favorite Friesan Fire, also-rans General Quarters and Flying Private and five fresh faces led by crack sprinter Big Drama and the improving Terrain and you have the makings of a quality field capable of pressuring Rachel Alexandra at several points in the race.

That would put the filly into unknown territory, as she hasn’t had to repel multiple challenges in a single race since her coming of age party in November.

But the defection of Borel from Derby winner Mine That Bird to Rachel Alexandra, whom he has ridden to victory in her last five races, speaks volumes. The fact that he was willing to cede the seat on the only horse with a chance of capturing the Triple Crown is a strong endorsement of the filly’s superiority.

Another potential stumble — apart from the literal one — is that Rachel Alexandra will have to overcome a change of barns since her Oaks victory.

After being well and conservatively managed by trainer Hal Wiggins for owners Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer, Rachel Alexandra was sold privately to Jess Jackson, founder of the Kendall Jackson winery, and partner Harold McCormick one week ago and transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn.

Her former connections had no intention of running her in any of the Triple Crown races — in fact they hadn’t even nominated her to the series – but Jackson and McCormick made the purchase with an immediate goal in mind: The Preakness.

Disruptions of routine and alterations in a training regimen can be unsettling to any thoroughbred, let alone a young filly, but both her former and current connections describe Rachel Alexandra as almost supernaturally calm and reportedly she hasn’t turned a hair since the change of address.

Her outside post draw — she’ll start from the 13 hole in a 13-horse field — could pose a more significant problem. A number of horses in the race like to run immediately to the front, mirroring Rachel Alexandra’s running style, which could force Borel to choose between getting caught wide on the first turn or tucking in behind the front runners to try and save ground.

But I don’t see that happening, as Borel will surely be aware that the other riders will be looking to force the filly as wide as possible on that first turn. And starting on the outside will make it much tougher for them to box her in and intimidate her with their bigger, stronger mounts.

They still might try, though, as there is a long tradition of ganging up on favorites in Triple Crown races, particularly where fillies are concerned.

One of the more notorious cases occurred in the 1988 Preakness, when trainer Woody Stephens and jockey Pat Day appeared to target the Derby-winning filly Winning Colors. Winning Colors’ rider Gary Stevens said Day crowded his horse throughout the race and then bumped her outward on the backstretch, leaving open a rail passage for the eventual winner, Risen Star. Winning Colors finished third in the race, while Forty Niner staggered home seventh.

One would hope that Rachel Alexandra’s foes won’t resort to such tactics to try to defeat her. But even if they do, I’m not sure they’ll succeed. She appears to be a very special filly primed to demonstrate that on Saturday.

Betting a race with a big favorite is always a challenge, but Triple Crown races usually include talented horses at such good odds that there’s no way I’m taking a pass.

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I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.