All eyes on Rachel Alexandra at Preakness

By Steve Ginsburg

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Rachel Alexandra has proven to be the top filly in the U.S. but the true test arrives on Saturday when she takes on a dozen of the top male three-year-olds in the Preakness Stakes.

The talented filly is centre of attention for the $1.1 million (722,536 pound) race, ahead of the 50-1 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird.

"The fans deserve to see the best horses compete regardless of sex," said Rachel Alexandra's co-owner Jess Jackson. "This isn't about male or female, it's about the best athletes."

The early 8-5 favourite has been unbeatable this year against the fillies, winning all four of her races including a breathtaking 20-1/4 length victory in the Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago.

The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro skipped the Derby and was purchased last week by Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and Harold T McCormick.

"Take a look at the lady, if you saw her run in the Oaks, she devastated the field," said Jackson. "She has stamina."

No filly has won the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924.

"She is the most special filly we've seen in a number of years," said Friesan Fire's trainer Larry Jones.

"She sure looks like it now. Sunday morning, we may not say so. But right now she's legitimate."

Rachel Alexandra will start from the outside post in the 13-horse race while the gelding Mine That Bird, co-third favouriteat 6-1, will break from the number two slot at Pimlico Race Course.

INSIDE ROUTE

Mine That Bird captured the Derby by 6 3/4 lengths, scooting along the rail in a daring move by jockey Calvin Borel, whose nickname is 'Bo-Rail' for his love of taking the inside route.

Borel is Rachel Alexandra's regular rider and has decided to jump off the Derby champion Saturday in favour of the filly. Hall of Famer Mike Smith will instead climb aboard Mine That Bird.

"This is a business and Calvin has to watch out for himself," said Mine That Bird's trainer Chip Woolley.

"I respect his choice. It was a hard choice for him to make."

Seven Derby starters decided to make the trek to Pimlico including the Bob Baffert-trained runner-up Pioneerof the Nile and third-place finisher Musket Man, winner of the Illinois Derby.

Despite the emergence of Rachel Alexandra there are several horses hoping for redemption in the 1 mile 3/16ths Preakness including Friesan Fire.

The bay son of AP Indy went off as the Derby favourite but had a horrendous trip under Gabriel Saez and finished 18th in the 19-horse field at Churchill Downs.

Jones said he was enjoying the underdog status this week.

"I'd rather be under the radar than have everybody zero-ing in on me," said Jones, whose Kentucky-bred colt is the other co-third favourite and will break from the fifth post.

"If Friesan Fire had run fifth or sixth in the Derby you'd think maybe his seven-week layoff got to him or maybe he's just not that good. But to run 18th, you just draw a line through it and go on."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

Article Published: 14/05/2009