Racing's Soap Opera: As the Preakness Turns
by Greg Melikov - 05/11/2009
The 134th Preakness has turned into the soapiest of tearjerkers featuring Alexandra the Great and the Derby Boys.
There was much hoopla and anticipation when Rachel Alexander changed hands and the new owner and trainer decided the filly would take on the boys if she continued to work well after an extraordinary 20 ¼-length thumping of the opposition in the Kentucky Oaks.
Owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen were all smiles Sunday when the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro breezed four furlongs in a sharp 48 2/5 at Churchill Downs.
According to observers, she was full energy before taking off down the backstretch and was full of run passing the half-mile pole, galloping out five furlongs in 1:02.
But they probably were on the verge of tears when reports circulated Sunday that two owners with entries in the Preakness planned to add additional runners to keep the much-feared Alexandra the Great in the barn.
Thoroughbred Times first reported that Mark Allen, co-owner of Mine That Bird, and Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, planned "to enter at least one additional horse."
As word circulated on TV and online, it was greeted by negative responses galore. Going directly to one of the horse's mouths, the TVG racing network contacted Zayat by phone.
Zayat said he carefully reviewed all the options and decided he wouldn't enter any other of his 22 Triple Crown nominees. Allen later relented, too.
The smiles are back in the filly's camp. All that's needed is the $100,000 supplemental fee to make Rachel Alexandra eligible for the restricted 14-horse field as long as no more than 13 others are entered.
She's feared for several reasons. None of the boys have won five in a row or posted four triple-digit speed figures, In fact, she has one more than all the likely Preakness runners combined.
In addition, regular rider Calvin Borel decided to stay aboard her instead of returning on Mine That Bird.
Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli had already announced he would make Rachel Alexandra the morning line favorite. The last two favored fillies were Derby champs Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in '88.
Genuine Risk finished second to Codex while Winning Colors was third to Risen Star. Four of the 52 that triumphed at Pimlico were Flocarline, '03; Whimsical, '06; Rhine Maiden, '15; and Nellie Morse, '24. You could call '15 the Year of the Filly because Regret took the Derby.
Genuine Risk was the first of two fillies to start all three legs of the Triple Crown, finishing second in the Belmont, while Winning Colors ran sixth.
Horses exiting the Derby hold a distinct advantage: 21 of the past 23 captured the Preakness. The only exceptions were newcomers Red Bullet in '00 and Bernardini in '06, returning $14.40 and $12.20, respectively.
The longest longshot in Preakness history was Master Derby in '75, returning $48 on the front end. In the last 14 years, four Derby winners paid more: Thunder Gulch in '95, $51, Charismatic, '99, $64.60; Giacomo, '05, $102.60; and Mine That Bird, $103.20.
Seven Derby champs also won the Preakness since '93 when the last runner-up scored -- Prairie Bayou. That bodes ill for Pioneer of the Nile.
Other Derby runners headed to Pimlico: Musket Man, third; Papa Clem, fourth; General Quarters, 10th; Friesan Fire, 18th; and Flying Private, 19th and last.