05/10/2009 11:00PM

Quick turnaround the major concern for Rachel


NEW YORK - Rachel Alexandra versus Mine That Bird. The brilliant Kentucky Oaks winner against the shocking Kentucky Derby winner. That's the matchup the racing public wants to see, and they want to see it Saturday at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes. And after Sunday's shameful contemplations of blocking Rachel Alexandra from the Preakness by entering overmatched but Triple Crown-nominated bums, it looks right now like it's going to happen.

But was all the angst on Sunday worth it? While it has become even easier to root for Rachel Alexandra after what transpired Sunday, especially in comparison to two prominent Preakness contenders in particular, is running in the Preakness even a good idea?

Forget about the gender issue. Rachel Alexandra has been so exceptional this season, she rates as the best 3-year-old filly seen in many years. Conversely, with the highly talented pair of I Want Revenge and Quality Road sidelined by injury, what's left of the males looks to be profoundly average. Of the list of Preakness probables as of this writing, no male shows a higher Beyer Speed Figure than the 108 Rachel Alexandra earned under wraps in the Kentucky Oaks. In fact, none of the males in the Preakness has earned more than one triple-digit Beyer in their lives. Rachel Alexandra has earned triple-digit Beyers in her last four starts. So a filly meeting colts (or gelding, in the case of Mine That Bird) is, in this instance, not the cause for pause it usually is.

The potential pace scenario in the Preakness doesn't seem to be cause for concern, either. While everyone wondered after Rachel Alexandra won the Oaks by more than 20 lengths whether she should have waited a day and run in the Derby instead, the pace dynamics in the Derby really didn't favor her. Rachel Alexandra likes to operate on or close to the lead. If she had run in the Derby, she would have been chasing Join in the Dance, who was going to go as fast as he had to early to fulfill his role as Dunkirk's rabbit, and she would have had that demanding stalking trip over a track on Derby Day that was sticky and tiring.

The pace scenario in the Preakness is not as unfavorable. Big Drama and Take the Points have speed, but neither figure to be gunning for the lead as they aren't need-the-lead types. That's good for Rachel Alexandra.

No, the principal reason to question whether running in the Preakness is a good idea for Rachel Alexandra is it requires her to run back in only 15 days. Outside of her racing debut, which she lost - any horse can lose in his or her racing debut; even Secretariat did - Rachel Alexandra has lost only two other times. Notably, both of those losses came when Rachel Alexandra was running back on the shortest rest of her career. Both of those losses came when she was running back in 15 days.

The first of those was her second-place finish last June in the Debutante Stakes, a race that was won with a Beyer 8 points lower than the one Rachel Alexandra got in her maiden win 15 days earlier. The other loss was her second as the favorite in last November's Pocahontas Stakes to Sarah Louise, a filly Rachel Alexandra crushed with more rest between starts in the subsequent Golden Rod Stakes.

Of course, it could be argued that Rachel Alexandra is a much better horse now, and as such is better equipped to handle a 15-day turnaround. That might be completely true, and this could be much ado about nothing. But it is interesting that Hal Wiggins, who developed and trained Rachel Alexandra until she was sold last week, and who knows her better than anyone else on the planet, planned to give this filly five weeks after the Oaks before running her again in the Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day.

The worry here is that Rachel Alexandra might not have enough time between starts to produce her best effort in the Preakness. Now, she might be so good that she could still win the Preakness without running her best race. But if Rachel Alexandra doesn't win Saturday, it won't do the game any favors and could unnecessarily damage her reputation.

Two other Triple Crown thoughts:

* Mine That Bird, who had never before run a race that was within 24 Beyer points of his effort in the Derby, will not get the perfect confluence of events Saturday that happened for him in Kentucky. He won't get the identical combination of the slop, the rail bias, passing 17 opponents inside, or Calvin Borel (if Rachel Alexandra enters). Yet he will still only be a tiny fraction of the price he was two weeks ago. He might win, but going in, he's a bad bet.

* I wonder about those who take the Derby result as proof that the California-based 3-year-olds and their synthetic-track form stepped it up on dirt. Pioneerof the Nile had to improve on his Santa Anita Derby winning form (96 Beyer) to win. He didn't. He tailed off 1 Beyer point. He did finish second (and should have been disqualified for coming out late) but lost by almost seven lengths. Papa Clem had already earned a career-best Beyer of 101 on dirt winning the Arkansas Derby, but he tailed off 6 points and finished fourth. And Chocolate Candy did finish fifth in the Derby, but it's hard to say he flourished on dirt. He tailed off 8 points from his career top of 94 when second in the Santa Anita Derby and was beaten 13 lengths. That's a lot of lengths.