05/25/2009 12:00AM

Rachel works; no decision on Belmont

Email
Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Kentucky Oaks and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra works four furlongs Monday over a sloppy Churchill Downs surface under Dominic Terry.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Owner Jess Jackson said Monday morning at Churchill Downs that he has made no decision regarding the Belmont Stakes status of Rachel Alexandra, leading the connections of Mine That Bird to say they will wait to see what happens before deciding whether Calvin Borel will have the mount back on the gelding for the Belmont.

Monday morning at Churchill, Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird had their first workouts since finishing one-two in the May 16 Preakness, breezing about two hours apart. Shortly after daybreak, Rachel Alexandra went a half-mile in 50.20 seconds over a sloppy and sealed racetrack. Mine That Bird went the same distance in 51 seconds shortly after the track reopened following the regular maintenance break.

The events of the morning did nothing to determine whether Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will have Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra as an opponent in the June 6 Belmont. Borel rode Mine That Bird to win the Derby, then switched off him to win the Preakness on Rachel Alexandra. He has committed to ride Rachel Alexandra if she runs in the Belmont, and the connections of Mine That Bird had hoped to find out by Monday whether Borel will be available to ride their gelding. No jockey has ever swept the Triple Crown by riding different horses.

Jackson, whose Stonestreet Stables is the co-owner of Rachel Alexandra with Harold T. McCormick, was alongside trainer Steve Asmussen to watch the filly work. After the filly cooled out and was bathed, Jackson emerged from an office at the Asmussen barn to address a sizable group of media wanting to known about the filly's status for the third and last leg of the Triple Crown, for which she surely would be favored if she runs.

"We still can't make any decisions," said Jackson. "It's too early. We can't make that decision until we know."

Jackson said he has not set a time frame to commit to the Belmont. "It's up to her," he said. "She will tell us. I can't take a chance on making that declaration yet. We're still considering it."

Jackson said if Rachel Alexandra does not go in the Belmont, she likely would run three weeks later in the Grade 1, $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race restricted to 3-year-old fillies on June 27 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Jackson said he and Asmussen believe Rachel Alexandra came out of the Preakness in great shape and that she appears keen to do more.

"She thinks she can run through a brick wall," said Jackson.

After Jackson spoke to the media, Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, conferred with co-owners Mark Allen and Leonard Blach about who will ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont. Last week, Woolley had said he wanted a decision from Borel regarding his choice of mounts for the Belmont sometime Monday.

"I hate to do this to y'all, but we're probably going to hold off on a decision for a few more days," he said. "Out of respect for Calvin and them, we're going to give them a little more time."

Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird to a second-place finish in the Preakness, is committed to ride at Hollywood Park on Belmont Day.

Both Asmussen and Woolley said their horses likely would work again Monday at Churchill. Woolley said he may defer a jockey decision until after those works, knowing he still will have a wide choice of riders in case Borel winds up sticking with Rachel Alexandra.

"It'll probably be the end of this week, maybe even early next week before we go ahead and decide," he said.

A charter flight that will carry the Churchill horses to New York is scheduled for the morning of June 3.

In the Monday works, Dominic Terry, her regular exercise rider, was aboard Rachel Alexandra for her workout as she remained several paths off the inner rail, going through fractions of 12.60, 25, 37.20 and 50.20 seconds. Past the wire, she galloped out an extra furlong in an additional 14 seconds.

The Churchill surface was wet from rain that began overnight and continued into the early morning. In fact, just as Rachel Alexandra broke off at the half-mile pole, a drizzle turned into a much harder rain, although it had no effect on how she performed.

Later in the morning, with the rain having diminished and the track resealed, the surface looked very much like it did when Mine That Bird rolled to his 6 3/4-length triumph in the May 2 Derby. Although Woolley said he initially had planned a three-furlong work for Mine That Bird "just to stretch his legs," Borel broke him off before the half-mile pole.

"I put him into a two-minute clip, and he just went right along, like his old self," said Borel, who, even though he rode Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, also was aboard Mine That Bird in his only workout before that race.

Mine That Bird went in fractions of 13.60, 26.40, and 38.40 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.20. As the gelding was galloping out on the clubhouse turn, Woolley, who was watching from the six-furlong gap on the backstretch, shook his head in delight and said to no one in particular, "Boy, he gets over that ground good, that son of a gun."

Chocolate Candy solid in breeze

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer spent more time in the air than on the ground Monday, but he felt his 6,000-mile, cross-country round trip was worth it after watching Chocolate Candy breeze seven furlongs in 1:27.34 at Belmont Park.

Chocolate Candy doesn't dazzle observers with his breezes, but Hollendorfer and exercise rider Lindsey Molina both seemed content with how the colt is doing and, perhaps more importantly, how he is handling Belmont Park's sandy main track.

"This horse just skips over this track," said Molina, who has been aboard for two of Chocolate Candy's three works at Belmont. "I honestly think he goes better over this than he did at Churchill. I mean, he handled Churchill well, but [at Belmont] you don't even feel him underneath you."

Chocolate Candy has been in New York since May 6 - four days after finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby - and has breezed three times over the main track. Hollendorfer said he was advised by Ted Aroney, racing manager for owner Jenny Craig, to come early.

"It was suggested to us that it was better to train at Belmont for a while before you run," Hollendorfer said. "In this situation I'm guessing it was the right way to go. I didn't really want to leave him on the road that long but it's worked out okay so far."

Hollendorfer spent about two hours at Belmont on Monday morning. He took a red-eye flight from Oakland that landed at JFK Airport before 5:30 a.m. A friend picked him up and he was at Belmont by 5:45 when Chocolate Candy was getting ready to hit the track.

Chocolate Candy began his breeze at the six-furlong pole and, according to Belmont clockers, went in fractions of 24.63 seconds, 48.87, and 1:14.02.

Hollendorfer, who watched the breeze from ground level, caught his horse a little quicker, but nonetheless was happy. Hollendorfer said he was looking for "just a nice steady work, which he got I think over a fairly deep racetrack."

After watching two of his other horses breeze here, Hollendorfer was shuttled back to JFK for another cross-country trip to Oakland. The urgency to get back home was due to the fact Hollendorfer was running Our Partner in the Grade 3, $150,000 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Monday afternoon.

Hollendorfer plans one more breeze for Chocolate Candy next Monday or Tuesday, but was unsure whether he would be in town for it. He hoped to have Garrett Gomez up for that work. Gomez will ride Chocolate Candy in the Belmont.

- additional reporting by David Grening