05/11/2009 12:00AM

Coast looks clear for Rachel

Reed Palmer Photography
Mine That Bird, with Calvin Borel up, works a half-mile in 49.20 seconds Monday at Churchill Downs. Borel is expected to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, leaving the mount on Mine That Bird to Mike Smith.

Thirteen just might prove to be a lucky number. Led by Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Rachel Alexandra, a field of 13 was expected to be entered Wednesday in the 134th Preakness Stakes, to be run Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. If that number holds, or goes no higher than 14, it will avoid one of the more embarrassing scenarios in the history of the Triple Crown.

A maximum of 14 horses - which can fit in one starting gate - can run in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, owing to the width of the track. If more than 14 were to enter the $1 million race, there is the potential that Rachel Alexandra, who has to be supplemented to the Preakness for $100,000, would be excluded.

Unlike the Derby, where the race conditions clearly say that supplemental entries cannot supersede the entry of an original nominee, there is no language in the published Preakness race conditions stating that supplements are to be treated differently than original nominees.

"That was unfortunately omitted," Georganne Hale, racing secretary at Pimlico, said Monday morning.

Pimlico's decision to treat Preakness supplements like those of the Derby led to a wild day Sunday, when the owners of Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile, the Derby runner-up, said on HRTV that they would enter lesser horses in the Preakness to try to keep Rachel Alexandra from running. Both owners - Mark Allen and Ahmed Zayat - later Sunday reconsidered and said they would not enter other runners.

"My decision to enter Indy Express in the Preakness was strictly business," Allen, who owns Mine That Bird with Dr. Leonard Blach, said in a statement, "but after consulting with my dad and Doc Blach, I have decided to withdraw Indy Express to prevent any further misunderstandings. Their advice to me was just to do what's right, because arrogance and greed isn't right.

"So we'll meet everyone in Baltimore, ready to run."

Hale said she was relying on the opinion of Martin Jacobs, counsel for the Maryland Jockey Club, which runs Pimlico. She said Jacobs rendered his ruling on supplemental nominees late last week.

When asked Monday why Pimlico chose to treat Preakness supplements in such a manner, Jacobs said: "There's no reason to think that's going to happen."

Jacobs declined to explain further.

Reed Palmer Photography
Pioneerof the Nile works a half-mile in 47.60 seconds Monday at Churchill Downs in preparation for Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

Assuming 15 or more do not enter the Preakness, Frank Carulli, the track's linemaker, said the highly popular Rachel Alexandra would be the morning-line favorite.

The likelihood that Rachel Alexandra will not be put in a precarious position was welcome news for Jess Jackson, who purchased the majority interest in Rachel Alexandra last week.

"He is extremely pleased that Rachel Alexandra will be able to compete as the fans deserve to have the best horses compete," Caroline Shaw, a spokeswoman for Jackson, said in an e-mail. "Sportsmanship has prevailed here."

Regardless, the inconsistencies in how supplements are treated in Triple Crown races are being re-examined.

"The Derby is the only race where it is spelled out," said Ed Seigenfeld of Triple Crown Productions, which coordinates nominations for the three Triple Crown races each year. "There's nothing specifically listed in the Preakness or Belmont conditions. I guarantee it will be spelled out next year."

Seigenfeld said there is a clause on the common nomination form for the Triple Crown races that gives tracks latitude in deciding how to treat their races.

The Derby rules were instituted more than two decades ago. The initial impetus to have iron-clad rules came in 1981, when the owners of both Flying Nashua and Mythical Ruler successfully challenged the ambiguous language at the time and were granted spots in the field. Twenty-two entered that Derby and, following a scratch, 21 ran.

The Breeders' Cup treats supplements equal to original nominees. In oversubscribed fields, half the starters are determined by points earned in graded stakes during the year, the rest by a committee of racing officials.

To be sure, if the Preakness field holds at 13, it will be full of quality. In addition to Rachel Alexandra, the first four finishers from the Derby - Mine That Bird, Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man, and Papa Clem - are in the field as well as Friesan Fire, the beaten favorite in the Derby, and the highly regarded Big Drama. Others expected to enter are Flying Private, General Quarters, Luv Gov, Take the Points, Terrain, and Tone it Down.

Hull, the Derby Trial winner, was withdrawn from consideration Monday.

Big Drama was the first Preakness runner to arrive at Pimlico, and he completed his serious training for the Preakness with a half-mile work in 50 seconds Monday morning.

At Churchill Downs on Monday, Mine That Bird (49.20 seconds), Pioneerof the Nile (47.60 seconds), Flying Private (48.20 seconds), and General Quarters (50.20 seconds) all worked a half-mile.

"He's as ready as he can be and he's going to run as well as he can," said Chip Woolley, trainer of Mine That Bird, who was scheduled to be sent by van from Churchill Downs to Pimlico on Tuesday.

Rachel Alexandra worked a half-mile Sunday at Churchill Downs in 48.40 seconds. She is scheduled to fly to Maryland on Wednesday. Luv Gov went the same distance in 48.20 seconds. Terrain worked five furlongs in 1:02.60. His trainer, Al Stall Jr., on Monday said Jeremy Rose would ride Terrain in the Preakness.

At Belmont Park on Sunday, Take the Points worked five furlongs in 1:00.13.

Calvin Borel, who rode both Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra in their last start, has chosen to stick with Rachel Alexandra. If she is kept out of the Preakness, Borel will get the mount on Mine That Bird. Otherwise, Mike Smith will ride Mine That Bird, Allen said.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Marcus Hersh, and Marty McGee


Preakness probables

Horse Jockey Trainer Last race Finish
Big Drama J. Velazquez D. Fawkes Swale S. 2nd
Flying Private A. Garcia D.W. Lukas Kentucky Derby 19th
Friesan Fire G. Saez L. Jones Kentucky Derby 18th
General Quarters J. Leparoux T. McCarthy Kentucky Derby 10th
Luv Gov undecided D.W. Lukas Churchill maiden 1st
Mine That Bird M. Smith B. Woolley Jr. Kentucky Derby 1st
Musket Man E. Coa D. Ryan Kentucky Derby 3rd
Papa Clem R. Bejarano G. Stute Kentucky Derby 4th
Pioneerof the Nile G. Gomez B. Baffert Kentucky Derby 2nd
Rachel Alexandra C. Borel S. Asmussen Kentucky Oaks 1st
Take the Points E. Prado T. Pletcher Santa Anita Derby 4th
Terrain J. Rose A. Stall Jr. Blue Grass S. 4th
Tone It Down K. Desormeaux W. Komlo Tesio S. 3rd