ELMONT, N.Y. -- Rachel Alexandra, who became the fifth filly to win the Preakness Stakes, will not run in the 141st Belmont Stakes here on June 6, her connections announced late Friday afternoon.
As a result, Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, will once again be aboard Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.
Though it was widely thought that Rachel Alexandra would not run in the Belmont, owner Jess Jackson fueled hopes that she would run by not announcing a decision last Monday after the filly had her first work back from the race. But on Friday, Jackson ended speculation by saying he believes the filly would benefit from more time between races.
"We know the media and many fans would have liked to see her run in the Belmont Stakes - we feel the same,'' Jackson said in a press release. "But all of us sincerely interested in the horse must agree that we only want to see her run when it is best for her. While she is in great shape, having strong works, and recovering well from her amazing performances, we feel Rachel deserves a well-earned vacation. Since March 14, Rachel has won four graded races with just two weeks' rest between her last two victories. We will always put her long-term well-being first. And, of course, we want to run her when she is fresh.''
Rachel Alexandra is 5 for 5 this year, including wins in the Fair Grounds Oaks (March 14), Fantasy at Oaklawn Park (April 5), Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs (May 1), and Preakness Stakes (May 16). Jackson, and his business partner, Harold McCormick, purchased Rachel Alexandra privately from her previous owners, Dolphus Morrison and Michael Lauffer, after the Kentucky Oaks and turned her over to trainer Steve Asmussen. He supplemented her to the Preakness for a cost of $100,000 and she rewarded him and his partner.
Though Jackson's statement Friday didn't specifically address what Rachel Alexandra's next start would be, he had previously said that the Grade 1, $300,000 Mother Goose at Belmont on June 27 would be her next start if she skipped the Belmont Stakes. Also, according to New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward, Jackson told NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo personally on Friday that Rachel Alexandra would run in a race at Belmont Park this meet.
Hayward said the absence of Rachel Alexandra would likely cost the Belmont significantly in attendance. With Rachel Alexandra in the race, Hayward estimated a crowd of between 80,000 to 90,000. Without her, he believes the crowd will be 50,000 to 60,000. In 2007, when the filly Rags to Riches beat the boys, the attendance was 46,870, partly because her connections didn't announce their plans until five days before the race. Last year, when Big Brown was going for the Triple Crown, the attendance was 94,476.
"Obviously, it takes a lot of juice out of it,'' Hayward said of Rachel Alexandra's absence. "P.J. still thinks he's going to get 10 or 11 and it'll be an interesting race. ... It's not going to be what it was if the filly had come.''
As of Friday, the Belmont field was expected to include Brave Victory, Charitable Man, Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, Flying Private, Luv Gov, Miner's Escape, Mine That Bird, Mr. Hot Stuff, and Summer Bird. Nowhere to Hide is possible.
Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, said that Jackson called him personally Friday to tell him that Rachel Alexandra would not be running and that Borel would be available to ride his gelding.
"That was a very classy thing to do,'' Woolley said. "We're glad to have Calvin and glad to have this part cleared up.''
Woolley said he had some mixed emotions about not facing the filly, who beat Mine That Bird by one length in the Preakness.
"It'd be good for racing, but at the same time one less horse is better for my horse,'' Woolley said. "It's kind of a blessing. We're happy from that aspect. It's a shame on the other hand you couldn't have another great race like the Preakness.''
Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains the possible Belmont pacesetter Charitable Man, also expressed mixed emotions about Rachel Alexandra not running.
"I'm sad for racing in a way, but I'm thankful we don't have to run against her because she's a very good filly,'' McLaughlin said. "It was a hard decision yet a correct decision regarding the filly's concern. Hats off to them for trying to do the right thing.''
Borel, who will be riding in his first Belmont Stakes, will attempt to become the first jockey to sweep all three Triple Crown races aboard more than one horse.
"Now that this decision is made, I am excited to come to New York and ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes," Borel said in a statement to NYRA. "I would like to thank Chip Woolley, and [owners] Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach for being so gracious and allowing us to wait for this decision. We also thank Mr. Jackson for letting everyone know earlier than anticipated about the decision whether to run Rachel Alexandra.''