Moments after watching Rachel Alexandra hold off Mine That Bird to become the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years, the first thing that came to my mind was, "What a great day for horse racing. Boy, did we need a day like this."
Over the past year this sport has taken a lot of hits. We were due for a day like this. And what a day it was.
As I wrote shortly after Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick, there was a certain sense of sadness that the super filly was taken away from Hal Wiggins. And some of that sadness still remains. But when all is said and done, this struggling sport is so much better off for Jackson deciding to run her in the Preakness. I've been critical of Jackson before, but give the man a lot of credit for this. He made a bold decision, took some heat, and came out on the other side smelling like roses.
Think about how many new racing fans her outstanding performance will attract (I can't wait to see the TV ratings); how much life this filly has injected into this Triple Crown season; and how much anticipation she has created for the rest of the season. As racing fans we are always complaining that we rarely get to see the best race against best, and rightfully so. Well, guess what? Jackson gave us that opportunity. And we enjoyed it immensely.
In analyzing the race, what I was most impressed with was Rachel Alexandra's ability to run blazing fractions, take all the heat, and still have something left in the stretch. By drawing post 13, Calvin Borel's hand was forced. He couldn't afford to take back behind a wall of horses, so he had to rush her up from the outside, clear horses and take her to the front. There was no other way. But when I saw her run a :46 3/5 half-mile I have to admit I thought she was cooked. I should have known better.
Rachel opened up a clear lead at the top of the lane before Musket Man and Mine That Bird made their bids. You could see the filly laboring in the final yards as Mine That Bird continued his charge, but that had to be expected after those fractions. She was much the best.
After the race Borel said she didn't handle the track all that well. Considering that astounding statement, and she didn't have the ideal setup from a pace perspective, the win was that much more amazing.
The race was also fulfilling because Mine That Bird proved his Derby win was no fluke. He made his same bold, closing run on a fast track this time and had to do it while going wide. Granted, he did have the benefit of laying off a hot pace, but his tremendous turn of foot in the stretch was truly impressive. It's on to the Belmont for the gelding.
Also game in defeat was Musket Man. This colt is all guts and has finally proven himself as one of the top 3-year-olds this season. There should no longer be any questions about his supposed limited pedigree.
Of course, minutes after Rachel's Preakness win the question on everyone's mind was whether or not she would run in the Belmont. It's only natural after what we had just witnessed. But I say let's enjoy this for a week or so before we start analyzing that subject. I'm sure there are going to be a handful of people who are going to start whining for Jackson to "do the right thing and give her time off." It will be those same people who railed on him for running her back two weeks after winning the Oaks. Thankfully, he didn't listen to any of them.
Here's a thought: Before those same people start their crusade against Jackson pointing her to the Belmont, keep your mouths shut for a while. Jackson, Asmussen and the rest of the Rachel team will take some time, see how she came out of the race, and then make a sound decision. They will run her if she is ready and they will point her to another race this summer if she isn't. They will do right by the filly. They will know better than any of us.
So, in closing, relax and enjoy this day. You just saw history. You just saw the 11th filly to ever win a Triple Crown race and the first favored filly since Regret in 1915 to win a classic. All you gals out there, you just saw a filly take down the boys. You just saw a great day for racing.
We needed this day.
** One final thought. Not that I want to see attendance decline at any horse race, but I was all smiles when I saw the empty-looking infeld at Pimlico. Count me among those who thought it was a joke that Pimlico made the decision to ban outside alcohol from the infield and charge $3.50 for a beer in addition to the over-priced $60 admission tickets. The announced crowd of 77,850 was way down from 112,222 last year. Nice job college students. Way to stick it to them.
View Photos from Rachel Alexandra's victory in the 2009 Preakness Stakes.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt