05/17/2009 11:00PM

Rachel got job done with less than her best


BALTIMORE - There is no point in belaboring what has already been written dozens of times in the wake of Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra is indeed a very special horse, an observation that is only partly based on the fact that she became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness.

With his furious late charge that fell just one length short, Mine That Bird proved he is indeed the genuine article and not the fluke many people thought he was when he won the Kentucky Derby at an underlaid 50-1.

The drama on the track - Rachel Alexandra grimly persevering in the face of Mine That Bird's late onslaught - managed to rise above even the high drama of the preliminaries - Rachel Alexandra being purchased for what was thought to be in the neighborhood of $10 million; Calvin Borel being the first ever to give up the mount on the Derby winner to ride another horse in the Preakness; and the connections of Mine That Bird thankfully abandoning their ill-considered plan to block Rachel Alexandra from participating. All of that made this Preakness a race that even an aging cynic won't forget.

It seems prudent now to ask, How well did Rachel Alexandra really run last Saturday? This is important for a couple of reasons.

For one, if it doesn't happen two weeks from Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird might meet again somewhere down the road. If they do, who would you like?

In a larger sense, the question is important when it comes to Rachel Alexandra's place in racing history. Of course, that is something she is still working on. But Rachel Alexandra's Preakness, combined with her 20 1/4-length romp in the Kentucky Oaks, have initiated comparisons to some of the greatest females of all time. It has already been pointed out - absurdly, I might add - that as revered as Ruffian is, Rachel Alexandra has accomplished something Ruffian never did, which is to beat males. But Rachel Alexandra has not won all the races she finished. She didn't run six furlongs in 1:08.60 as a 2-year-old, or seven furlongs in 1:21.20 just two months and three races before easily winning the Coaching Club American Oaks going 1 1/2 miles. But that is a discussion - it isn't even a debate -- for another time.

According to Beyer Speed Figures, Rachel Alexandra ran just as well in the Preakness as she did in the Kentucky Oaks, earning an identical 108. But there is something counter-intuitive about that number, beyond the fact that Rachel Alexandra just didn't look like she was running a hole in the wind at Pimlico like she did at Churchill.

A 108 for Rachel Alexandra means that Mine That Bird improved 1 point in defeat from the 105 he got winning the Derby by almost seven lengths. It means that Musket Man, who has been a model of consistency, Beyering between 90 and 98 in five starts this year, suddenly shot up 11 points in just two weeks, from the 95 he got for finishing third in the Derby to the 106 he got for finishing third in the Preakness. It means fourth-place finisher Flying Private bettered his previous best Beyer by 8 points. It means seventh-place finisher Terrain earned a new career top. And it means Luv Gov improved on his going-away maiden win on the Derby undercard by 7 Beyer points for finishing eighth on Saturday.

Adding to the confusion is Borel's insistence in his post- race comments that Rachel Alexandra did not really handle the Pimlico main track. The jockey is not exactly an objective observer, but in this case, there isn't any reason to disbelieve Borel. Rachel Alexandra won, so he doesn't need to be a spin doctor.

Going into the Preakness, I thought Rachel Alexandra would win if she was able to produce a top effort running back in only 15 days. That was something she wasn't able to do twice last year, so I had doubts. After watching the race, and despite what the Beyer Figures say, I believe there was still something to the short turnaround, and maybe with her comfort with the footing, too. I think Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness with something less than her best performance, and that makes the prospect of what she might do later on all the more exciting. Just be careful with those Ruffian comparisons, though.

Quick thoughts:

* Saturday was the 10th anniversary of Lee Chang Ferrell's running out on the track from the Pimlico infield and taking a punch at Artax as the field was coming down the stretch in what was then the Maryland Breeders' Cup Stakes. There was no chance of a repeat on Saturday, however, because there was hardly anyone in the infield to run out on the track due to the new cooler restrictions for the infield. Even local police officers who monitor behavior in the infield from the front side were astonished how empty the infield was.

* Everyday Heroes, who extended his undefeated streak to four in the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes on the Preakness undercard, can really run. Despite running sideways in the stretch, Everyday Heroes won with complete authority and ran .44 of a second faster than older horses did going the same six-furlong distance in the Maryland Sprint Handicap two races later. He earned a strong Beyer of 106.

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