05/12/2009 11:00PM

Rachel isn't your typical fresh face

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra will test males after dominating the Kentucky Oaks.

BALTIMORE - For the most part, the fresh-face angle has been a futile one when it comes to handicapping the Preakness. In the last 29 runnings, dating back to 1980, only five horses that didn't run in the Kentucky Derby have won the Preakness.

The last two to do it were Bernardini, who won the Preakness in 2006 in a race better known for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro being injured, and Red Bullet, the Wood Memorial runner-up who skipped the Derby and beat odds-on Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

The primary theory behind the lack of success among Triple Crown newcomers is that if a 3-year-old was good enough to win the Preakness that horse would have run in the Derby two weeks earlier.

With few exceptions, most of the new shooters to a given Preakness field are double-digit longshots. Such was the case even last year when 10 of the 11 horses Derby winner Big Brown faced came out of races other than the Derby.

This year is a completely different story. When the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra starts against 12 males in Saturday's 134th Preakness, she will be sent off the favorite. And, if you listen to some of her rivals, a deserving one at that.

"I think she's the best horse,'' said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the first of his five Preakness trophies with Triple Crown newcomer Codex in 1980 and who will send out longshots Flying Private and Luv Gov against Rachel Alexandra on Saturday.

"If she throws up those same numbers against these horses that she's thrown up on everything else, absolutely she's the horse to beat,'' said David Fawkes, trainer of Big Drama.

The last time a non-Derby starter went favored in the Preakness was 1982, when Linkage finished second as the 1-2 favorite. Gato Del Sol, the 21-1 winner of that year's Kentucky Derby, did not run in the Preakness because his connections did not feel the race suited him.

Rachel Alexandra wasn't in the Kentucky Derby because her connections at the time, owners Michael Lauffer and Dolphus Morrison, do not believe fillies should run against colts in the Triple Crown. But they sold Rachel Alexandra a week following her 20 1/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks and her new owners, Jess Jackson and Hal McCormick, are taking on the boys.

Steve Asmussen, who is now the trainer of Rachel Alexandra, said he believes she would have fit in the Derby field.

"Watching the horses Derby Week, her being involved because she was in the Oaks, I thought she was comparable,'' Asmussen said. "If she'd run in the Derby she wouldn't have been that big of a price.''

Rachel Alexandra brings a five-race winning streak into the Preakness. She has won from on or just off the pace and could find herself the main speed under Calvin Borel, who takes off the Derby winner Mine That Bird to ride.

"Her ability, her style and durability is what's really made her special,'' Asmussen said.

Rachel Alexandra has yet to be tested in her four starts this year, which Lukas said he believes is a plus.

"Rachel Alexandra has pretty much had everything her own way, she hasn't even been asked to run,'' Lukas said. "She's got a big edge. These colts coming off of that slick track at the Derby, some of them I think definitely went to the well a little bit.''

Big Drama loves to win

Before Rachel Alexandra came into the race, Big Drama was deemed the best of the Preakness new shooters.

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer David Fawkes is removing Big Drama's blinkers for the Preakness.

Big Drama has crossed the finish line first in his last six starts, though he was disqualified from first and placed second in the Swale Stakes, a race in which he set a Gulfstream Park track record of 1:20.88 for seven furlongs.

Big Drama was being considered for the Lone Star Derby, but was redirected to the Preakness after Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby at 50-1. This will be only Big Drama's second start of the year, and he is unproven beyond 1 1/16 miles. The Preakness is run at 1 3/16 miles.

"I assume there's some question of that," Fawkes said of the distance. "The horse hasn't done anything wrong yet; he's always gotten the distance we've asked him to get.''

In an effort to get Big Drama to settle, Fawkes will remove the horse's blinkers.

John Velazquez, who has finished fifth in his only two Preakness mounts, rides Big Drama for the first time.

Take the Points back on dirt

Take the Points, who finished fourth to Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby, could have run in the Kentucky Derby had his connections so chose. But owner Jack Wolf and trainer Todd Pletcher felt he would benefit from some extra time and a shorter field.

"We think he's going to run the best race he's capable of running Saturday at the Preakness,'' Pletcher said. "I wasn't as confident that would be the case leading up to the Derby.''

On the suggestion of jockey Alex Solis, who rode Take the Points in the Santa Anita Derby, Pletcher is adding blinkers to Take the Points. He was on the aggressive side when he worked in blinkers last weekend, and without much speed in this field, he could be a pace presence.

Take the Points, a son of Even the Score, will be reunited with Edgar Prado and returns to dirt. Prado rode Take the Points to his two victories, both on dirt.

Terrain has longshot potential

Terrain, like Take the Points, had enough earnings to run in the Kentucky Derby, but his connections felt the race was coming up too tough. Trainer Al Stall was considering running the gelding in the Lone Star Derby, but altered course when the Kentucky Derby shook out as it did.

Terrain is making his third start off a layoff after running third in the Louisiana Derby in the slop at Fair Grounds and fourth in the Blue Grass run on Polytrack at Keeneland.

"His strength is he's going back to his preferred surface,'' Stall said. "He tolerated the Poly. He's more aggressive and more in the bridle on the dirt. He's a fresh, happy horse, always been a sound horse. Dead fit, two turns, fast track. He's going to try. If he gets the right trip, you never know what might happen.''

Stall pointed out that Terrain has twice finished ahead of Pioneerof the Nile.

Jeremy Rose, who won the 2005 Preakness aboard Afleet Alex, will ride Terrain for the first time.

Luv Gov prepping for Belmont

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas says Luv Gov is "getting good at the right time."

Coming off a maiden victory in his 10th start, Luv Gov would appear up against it in this spot. In fact, had Pimlico officials not eliminated the Barbaro Stakes (formerly the Sir Barton), Lukas said he would have run Luv Gov in that race as a prep for the Belmont.

"He's getting good at the right time,'' said Lukas, who is also running Derby last-place finisher Flying Private. "The horse has got some talent. He's my Belmont horse, that's where I've been pointing him. I might get a wake-up call there, too, but he's doing well and moving forward.''

Tone It Down to change tactics

The lone locally based horse in the field, Tone It Down comes off a third-place finish in the Federico Tesio run over this track two weeks ago.

Tone It Down has been in front in each of his last two starts, but trainer William Komlo said he believes if his horse has any chance to be successful Saturday it will be from off the pace.

"We're not going for the lead in this race,'' Komlo said. "We have to come from off the pace; that's our strong point. We're going to change tactics a bit here.''

Kent Desormeaux, a two-time Preakness-winning rider, has the call.