Filly holds off charging Mine That Bird

BALTIMORE -- Lady, first.

Rachel Alexandra, the lone filly in the field, was a history-making winner of the 134th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico. Before a crowd that cheered her lustily both before and after the race, Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924 and became the first horse to win both the Kentucky Oaks and then the Preakness.

To do it, she had to outrun 12 males, including the Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who closed furiously from last to finish second, beaten by one length.

Mine That Bird's loss means that the elusive Triple Crown will go unclaimed yet again. Affirmed, in 1978, was the last horse to win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. The 31-year drought is the longest ever, since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown in 1919.

Musket Man, third in the Derby, was third again in the Preakness, a half-length behind Mine That Bird. Flying Private was fourth and was followed, in order, by Big Drama, Papa Clem, Terrain, Luv Gov, General Quarters, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile, Tone It Down, and Take the Points.

Rachel Alexandra ($5.60) completed 1 3/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:55.08. It was cloudy all day at Pimlico, but the rain that was forecast held off until the post parade for the Preakness and was not significant.

The double bet combining Payton d'Oro - the winner of Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes - with Rachel Alexandra paid $16.80.

Rachel Alexandra was ridden by Calvin Borel, who won Oaks on her and the Derby on Mine That Bird and chose to stick with the filly. No jockey had ever taken off a Derby winner to ride a different horse against the Derby winner in the Preakness.

"This is the greatest horse I've ever been on in my life," said Borel, who said Rachel Alexandra was "struggling at the very end" to get a hold of the surface.

"The more I asked her, the more she struggled," Borel said. "I had to hit her a couple of times."

Rachel Alexandra earned a first prize of $660,000 from a gross purse of $1.1 million. The base purse of $1 million swelled by $100,000 because of the supplemental fee paid to run Rachel Alexandra by Jess Jackson, whose Stonestreet Stable, in partnership with Harold McCormick, purchased Rachel Alexandra privately six days after the Oaks.

"Mr. Jackson was rewarded for faith" in the filly, said Steve Asmussen, who took over as Rachel Alexandra's trainer after the sale. "Mr. Jackson stepped up and gave her a chance.

"It took some guts to do so."

Rachel Alexandra's previous owners had not nominated Rachel Alexandra to the Triple Crown, hence the need to supplement her to the Preakness.

"We just got out of her way," said Asmussen, who said Rachel Alexandra's previous trainer, Hal Wiggins, turned her over in excellent condition.

"Gender doesn't matter," Jackson said. "If a filly is as good as the colts, they ought to compete. I'm delighted that our decision was vindicated."

Jackson said Rachel Alexandra could come back in the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles on June 6. Mine That Bird also is scheduled to run in the Belmont.

Borel was winning the Preakness for the first time. Asmussen won it two years ago with Curlin, who narrowly defeated Derby winner Street Sense, who was ridden by Borel.

Rachel Alexandra, starting from the outside post, broke well and held a narrow lead into the first turn while racing outside of Big Drama, who was racing well off the rail. Big Drama came out alertly after acting up in the gate, which forced him to be backed out and re-loaded.

After an opening quarter-mile in 23.13 seconds, Rachel Alexandra continued to volley with Big Drama through a half-mile in 46.71 and six furlongs in 1:11.01. By that point, Rachel Alexandra began to inch away from the field, but Mine That Bird was beginning to launch a powerful run, though he had to go outside horses.

Once turning into the stretch, after a mile in 1:35.82, Rachel Alexandra kicked clear and opened a four-length lead with a furlong to run. Musket Man emerged from between horses, and then Mine That Bird, who was blocked a quarter-mile out, came storming down the center of the track.

But no one could catch Rachel Alexandra.

"She took it to them and earned this victory," Asmussen said.

Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, saluted Rachel Alexandra while noting the trouble Mine That Bird encountered.

"We're thrilled to death with him. He ran a huge race," Woolley said. "He got caught a little wide on the turn. It really cost us. We could have made a better horse race of it. But the mare ran great today. She deserves the win."

Big Drama was cast in his stall Saturday morning, but his trainer, David Fawkes, said later in the morning that the colt had suffered no ill effects.

"He's fine," Fawkes said. "It was as minor as could be. I wouldn't even say he scraped his knee."

Fawkes said Big Drama "just took a little hair off" his right knee.

"We gave him a bath and walked him, and he was fine," Fawkes said.

Handle on the day was $86,684,470, up from $73.5 million last year. Attendance dropped from 112,222 last year to an announced crowd of 77,850. The infield, always packed with college-age revelers who have just gotten out of school, was sparse, owing to a new policy instituted by Pimlico officials this year that banned patrons from bringing beer into the infield. Not only did infield fans have to buy beer from the concession stands, but the admission price was raised, too, to $60.

The record announced Pimlico crowd is 121,263, in 2007. The crowd was announced as 100,000 or more from 2001-2008, when the infield was jammed.

- additional reporting by David Grening


Pimlico Racecourse, Saturday, May 16