Horse Racing

Morry Gash/AP
Calvin Borel rides Rachel Alexandra to a victory in the Kentucky Oaks race at Churchill

Filly Rachel Alexandra Towers Over Colts at Preakness

May 11, 2009 06:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
In a year where the class of 3-year-old colts in underwhelming, filly Rachel Alexandra is likely to be the morning-line favorite in the Preakness Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra Likely to Run in Preakness

The 2009 Kentucky Derby saw the second biggest upset in the history of the race, with 50-1 gelding Mine That Bird winning by a convincing 6 3/4 lengths. However, for many horse racing fans the most memorable performance that weekend at Churchill Downs occurred the day before, when Rachel Alexandra blew away the Kentucky Oaks field by 20 1/4 lengths.

Many observers believed that Rachel Alexandra would have won the Derby had she been entered. However, her owners didn’t believe that fillies should run against colts. “The Triple Crown is the showcase of the future stallions of our industry,” said co-owner Dolphus Morrison. “Colts should run against colts, and fillies should run against fillies.”

Rachel Alexandra was purchased days later by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick for between $3-4 million. They soon began preparing to enter her in the Preakness, where she would have the opportunity to prove that she is the top 3-year-old horse of 2009.

“With extraordinary good timing, Rachel Alexandra has established herself as a near-superstar just as the injury-riddled crop of 3-year-old males has displayed its mediocrity,” writes The Washington Post’s Andrew Beyer.

Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode both Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs, has decided that he would ride the filly in the Preakness. It is believed that he would be the first jockey in the history of the Triple Crown to win the Derby and then ride a different horse in the Preakness.

“I got no choice. This filly is the best horse in the country. She’s the best horse I’ve ever been on,” said Borel, who also road 2007 Derby winner Street Sense.

Rachel Alexandra’s form has her rivals worried, so much so that two owners tried to collude to keep her out of the Preakness. Mark Allen, co-owner of Mine That Bird, called Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, with a plan to enter additional colts into the race and shut Rachel Alexandra out of the maximum 14-horse field.

Zayat, who revealed the plan to HRTV, soon backed out due to the negative public response; the plan has been scrapped and Rachel Alexandra is now clear to be entered. She will be the first filly to run the Preakness in 10 years, and should she win, she would be the first filly to win the race since Nellie Morse in 1924.

Background: Star fillies

Rachel Alexandra is one of several fillies who have become horse racing stars in the past several years. In 2007, Rags to Riches defeated Horse of the Year winner Curlin in the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first filly since 1905 to win the Belmont. Unfortunately, she ran just one more time before injuries ended her career.

Last year, undefeated French filly Zarkava ended her career on a high, overcoming a mishap out of the gate to win the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. “This Arc field … featured a fabulous collection of top class racehorses,” wrote The Daily Telegraph. “It is a mark of Zarkava’s great class that she made most of them look like second-raters.”

The top filly in the U.S. last year, Zenyatta, won all seven of her starts and capped her perfect year with a spectacular last-to-first move in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, which was voted 2008 NTRA Moment of the Year.

Writer Paul Moran says that the 5-year-old has the potential to replaced the retired Curlin as horse racing’s most famous older star. “She has charisma. She has a physically imposing presence,” he writes. “Zenyatta has her own legacy and the opportunity is at hand to establish that she is among the best female thoroughbreds of all time.”

Opinion: Should fillies run in Triple Crown races?

Not everybody believes that Rachel Alexandra should be running in the Preakness. Following the death of filly Eight Belles, who broke down after finishing second in last year’s Derby, many in the horse racing industry have become especially sensitive to the safety of running fillies against male horses.

Zayat, attempting to justify his plan with Allen, told HRTV, “Why not give her a freshening and run her in the Belmont? Two weeks for a filly. Does our sport need another Eight Belles? We all know what happened to Rags to Riches after her race in the Belmont. We all know what happened to Ruffian. I did not want to have that part of it on my watch.”

“Battles between the sexes have been taking place since people began racing horses for money with mixed results. What no one debates is that lately it’s taken its toll on the fillies,” writes The Associated Press’ Jim Litke, who points out that fillies such as Rags to Riches, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors have struggled after running in a Triple Crown race.

However, he also mentions that it is difficult to criticize the judgment of owner Jess Jackson, who “is among the more enlightened owners and a leader in the movement to reform thoroughbred racing.”

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