Rachel Alexandra stumbled at the start and struggled down the stretch, but the heralded filly was still good enough to beat surging Mine That Bird to the wire in the 134th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
The stirring one-length victory proved to be vindication for all concerned -- for Jess Jackson, who opted to send the 3-year-old filly against the boys; for Calvin Borel, who became the first jockey to abandon a Kentucky Derby winner for another Preakness horse; and for Mine That Bird, the smallish gelding with the giant finishing kick.
It was the first Preakness victory by a filly since 1924 when Nelly Morse won, and the first time since 1906 that a filly (Whimsical) won here as a favorite. Also, Borel was the first rider to win the Derby and Preakness on different horses.
A crowd of only 77,850 watched at Pimlico, a drop-off of some 35,000 from a year ago. The overall handle of $86,684,470 was the fifth highest in Preakness history.
History was set up last week when Jackson, founder of the Kendall-Jackson winery, purchased Rachel Alexandra after her huge victory in the Kentucky Oaks on May 1. He left the question of whether she would run in the Preakness to trainer Steve Asmussen and his veterinarians, opening himself to scrutiny and criticism.
"She showed the heart and skill of a champion," Jackson said. "Our decision was, not vindicated, but was correct."
As to whether Rachel Alexandra would run in the Belmont in three weeks, Jackson said: "It will depend on her."
"We'll wait for three, four days, see how she comes out of the race," he said. "Then we'll give her the same scrutiny we did with the vets. . . . Could she win? We think so. We've already shown she can run with the colts."
Mike Smith, who replaced Borel as Mine That Bird's jockey, said he didn't expect to see the filly in the Belmont. And if he does, he said he believed his horse would win.
Borel won for the sixth straight time aboard Rachel Alexandra, but this was not like her 20 1/4 -length victory in the Oaks on May 1. This was a troubled trip right from the beginning, and Mine That Bird was charging at the end.
"She had something to prove and I felt she proved it emphatically," Asmussen said. "The race didn't unfold exactly as we expected but she was still good enough to win a classic."