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HORSE RACING

There's no stopping Rachel Alexandra

Filly's path to race in the Preakness is cleared when plan to block her from competing is thwarted.

May 12, 2009|Ken Murray

BALTIMORE — Rachel Alexandra, the 3-year-old filly that stormed out of the Kentucky Oaks with an aura of invincibility, almost certainly will run in the Preakness on Saturday.

Her path as a $100,000 supplemental entry was cleared over the weekend when Mark Allen, co-owner of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, backed away from a plan that would have diverted her from the race.

It assured Pimlico Race Course one of its best Preakness fields in years -- with the top four Derby finishers plus the best rising female -- and precluded another black eye for a sport that already has a lumpy face from recent negative publicity.

"This is fantastic," Tom Chuckas Jr., president and chief operating officer of Maryland Jockey Club, said on Monday. "This provides us a race of the ages. . . . This is exactly what the sport needs."

Chuckas helped ensure Rachel Alexandra's participation when he talked Zayat out of a back-room deal that would have blocked Rachel Alexandra's entry for lesser horses.

"I did have a conversation with Zayat and the conversation was fruitful," Chuckas said. "He listened to the Jockey Club position. I was told he would enter the Preakness with Pioneerof the Nile and only Pioneerof the Nile. I found him to be a class gentleman."

Zayat told Horse Racing Television on Sunday that Allen had called him and suggested both owners add a second horse to their entries in order to block Rachel Alexandra. Those entries would have taken the field to 14 horses -- the Preakness' limit -- without the filly, who was not nominated to the Triple Crown series.

Allen's Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell, N.M., planned to enter Indy Express, who is 0-for-9 lifetime with only one finish in the money. Zayat was going to cooperate by bringing a horse from Zayat Stables.

Then, to further enforce the blockade, trainer D. Wayne Lukas planned to add Luv Gov to his Flying Private entry.

The backlash caused them to reconsider.

Marylou Whitney, owner of Flying Private, said Luv Gov would race only if Rachel Alexandra was in the field and not as a blocking mechanism.

"I don't believe it would have been in the best interests of the racing industry," Chuckas said. "Sanity prevailed at the end of the day. Looking at it, I think they recognized the importance of the race and the perception to the fans. I think they did the right thing, and I compliment them for their decision."

Allen announced his decision not to block Rachel Alexandra in a release from his Double Eagle Ranch. He said he wanted to retain jockey Calvin Borel, who delivered on a 50-1 long shot in the Kentucky Derby.

Borel had agreed to ride Rachel Alexandra through the rest of the race season, and will become the first jockey to bail on a Derby winner to ride another horse in the Preakness.

"My decision to enter Indy Express in the Preakness was strictly business, but after consulting with my Dad and [Dr. Leonard] Blach, I have decided to withdraw Indy Express to prevent any further misunderstandings," Allen said in the release. "Their advice to me was just to do what's right, because arrogance and greed isn't right."

Allen said Borel would be replaced by veteran jockey Mike Smith, who won the 1993 Preakness aboard Prairie Bayou.

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Baltimore Sun staff writer Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this report.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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Preakness Stakes

When: Saturday

Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore

Post time: 3 p.m. PDT, Ch. 4

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