Girl Power: 'Rachel' Wins
A Filly Takes Preakness For First Time Since 1924
Sunday, May 17, 2009
BALTIMORE, May 16 -- Her previous owner refused to enter her in the Preakness Stakes, believing it was unseemly to race a filly against a field of muscular colts.
Then, last week, after her new owners ponied up the $100,000 fee required to get Rachel Alexandra an 11th-hour berth in the second leg of the Triple Crown, a cabal of rival owners tried to block her entry -- loathe to find out what horse racing's super filly might achieve if admitted to their thoroughbred boys' club.
On Saturday, Rachel Alexandra showed them.
After a slight stumble at the start, the 3-year-old with the striking white blaze quickly composed herself, extended her legs, dug her hooves into the crumbly dirt of Pimlico Race Course and thundered on to become just the fifth filly to win the Preakness and the first in 85 years.
Only Mine That Bird, the come-from-behind, 50-to-1 upstart victor of the Kentucky Derby, proved remotely her equal. For the second time in as many races, the diminutive gelding mounted a breathtaking charge down the stretch to close within one length of the filly who wouldn't back down.
The outcome was never in doubt to Calvin Borel, the jockey who made history by passing on the opportunity to follow his Kentucky Derby victory atop Mine That Bird in the Preakness. Borel insisted instead on riding Rachel Alexandra.
Together they had romped to five consecutive victories against the country's top females -- including a 20 1/4 -length rout in the Kentucky Oaks on the eve of the Derby. So if Rachel Alexandra was going to compete against boys at Pimlico, Borel was determined to be on board.
As raindrops started to fall Saturday, they delivered a triumph, covering the 1 3/16 -mile distance in 1 minute 55.08 seconds to claim the $660,000 victor's share of the $1.1 million purse and hoist the coveted Woodlawn Vase. A 9-to-5 favorite, the filly paid $5.60.
"She's the best horse in the country, bar none," Borel said after thanking the horse's owners and trainers, Preakness officials, his parents and nearly everyone he had ever met for the glorious opportunity.
Mine That Bird, steered by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, finished second, followed by Musket Man, a half-length back, who matched his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
The outcome scotched hopes of a Triple Crown winner this season, but the feel-good story provided a sorely needed boost for the horse-racing industry, coming one year after the filly Eight Belles broke both front ankles and had to be euthanized on the track after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby.
That tragedy -- and the breakdown of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, who shattered a back leg in that year's Preakness -- raised troubling questions about track safety standards and the industry's treatment of its young thoroughbreds.