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Preakness Stakes: Rachel Alexandra Proves Her Machismo, But the Real Story is Mine That Bird

It has been suggested in some quarters (by Luke) that I've been remiss in my blogging duty by not covering the Kentucky Derby, which I attended this year. So as a long-time horse racing fan, I figured I should get on the horse and share some of my opinions on the Preakness, which was run yesterday.

Just in case you didn't see it, or hear about it, the lead-up to the race carried some interesting plotlines. You had the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, being ridden by a different jockey, because that jockey, Calvin Borel, decided to ride the filly Rachel Alexandra. The Preakness would be RA's first run against male horses -- something which does or does not really matter, depending on who you ask. With wins in seven of her past nine races (the other two were 2nd place finishes) RA was undoubtedly the horse to beat in this race. In fact, the attention had shifted almost completely away from MTB onto RA.

Well, as you know, RA won the race. Breaking from the 13th post position, she went straight to the lead where she battled neck-and-neck with the expected pace-setter Big Drama until the half-mile mark when she started to pull away. Coming down the home stretch, she put some distance between her and the field. Meanwhile, MTB was looking for room to run, and when he finally got it, he made a closing drive that almost -- almost -- caught RA at the finish line. RA won by one length.

So, now you've got the facts. Here are my opinions:

**The real story here is Mine That Bird -- (sorry Rachel Alexandra). Yes, the filly ran a great race and beat the boys, but to me the biggest takeaway from this race is that MTB proved he is for real. Not just for real but FO' REAL. I confess, I thought his KY Derby win was a fluke. Now, I am fully convinced this is a great horse, and fully convinced he can win the Belmont. This could be one of the greatest horses of all time, in fact.

He's bred like Equine Royalty, on both sides of his pedigree, and now he's proved himself at the Big Time (damned shame he's a gelding). The rest will be just to sit back and watch what else he can do. I'd look for him to romp to a win in the Belmont and come back later this fall for the Travers and/or Breeder's Cup.

**The Belmont is not gauranteed for RA -- In fact, at this point I doubt she'll race there.

First off, Cal Borel said she was "struggling" during the race. He may have just been talking about the track -- he referred to it as "deep" and dry -- or he may have been suggesting that RA was not at her best for some other reason. If she wasn't at her best, and she still won, imagine what she could do if she was at her best. BUT, if something else was wrong, and she comes out of the race anything other than 110% fit and ready to go, I doubt you'll see her in the Belmont.

Second off, as Steve Asmussen, her trainer, said: the Belmont is absolutely not an imperative for RA and her connections. She's already proven she can beat the best of the male horses around. RA's got a long career ahead of her. There's Saratoga and the Breeder's Cup in the Fall, and maybe some other stakes race(s) throughout the summer. There really is no need to test her again at the Belmont. Besides...

**If the Preakness were 50 more yards, MTB wins -- Look, RA won the Preakness. No way around that. She ran a hell of a race.

However, if you watch the replay, you'll see that MTB was driving very hard to the finish, and was gaining on her FAST. In a quarter of a mile he closed something like 20 lengths to lose by only a length. If the race was even 50 yars longer, I think he would have won handily.

Rachel Alexandra did what she always does, and what she has to do to win; she went to the lead and basically led wire to wire. She took the lead around the half-pole and defended against all comers, not even letting another horse get close to her. Still, if you look closely, she never really had that final burst of speed like MTB showed. She basically just had to hold on to win the race.

All that is to say, MTB is the better horse, and RA did not run a "perfect race" as some have said. The Belmont Stakes is also 5/16 of a mile longer than the Preakness, and if MTB gets a better trip (and it's hard to see how he could not) it seems extremely likely that with his distance and closing abilities, he will win the race handily.

**I still suck at handicapping--I'm lucky I wasn't near an OTB yesterday, because once again I would've flushed about $50 - $60 dollars down the toilet on a variety of exotic bets. I totally discounted MTB, and therefore none of my Trifecta's included him, and had to listen to phone calls from at least two friends who -- ONCE AGAIN -- hit the Trifecta (it's getting old now guys. Call me when you LOSE, or when you have something I can use).

I don't know what the problem is. I've watched racing all my life (albeit, most of it harness racing). Fundamentally, I look at the program and I see all the possible things that could happen in a race, and it overwhelms me. Also, having worked behind the stable gates, I've seen another side of the racing game. I've seen all that goes into the process of getting horses ready for the track, and all that can go wrong, all the elements that have to click together to get a win. I think somehow that has thrown a permanent monkey-wrench into my ability to pick a winner and stick to it. I firmly believe that the most important information about a horse is NOT what's on the program.

**To Conclude: RA ran a great race, but look beyond the hype. MTB is the big news here. Watch for him to romp to a win in the Belmont, and keep an eye on him in the months to come. You may be looking at the horse of the year.

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