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Superfecta’s Preakness Adventure

The day began early, with your intrepid Superfecta hoping to squeeze in a 10K run before the smallest member of the household awoke. Despite setting a halfway-decent pace, by the time I returned from my run he was already up and enjoying some Backyardigans – I hoped my failure to achieve my own goal would not bode ill for Rachel Alexandra, but in any case, it was going to be slower going as far as preparing to depart for Baltimore.

After assembling my usual racetrack bag of tricks (very portable hat, sunscreen, small towel, iPhone, iPod, raincoat, snacks, cash), I set off for the train. After my initial arrival in Baltimore and some not-inconsiderable time spent deciphering the rather poorly signposted lightrail system, I ended up on a shuttle to Pimlico. It must be said the approach to the decaying track is not what one might call majestic, but no matter; once in the parking lot I had a productive meeting with an entirely legitimate businessman and ended up with a $100 apron ticket for the bargain price of $80.

Duly credentialed, I wandered around the dark grandstand interior, looking in vain for directions to the paddock, infield and/or decent food and beer. As I was initially thwarted, I determined to find my seat in time for the Gallorette – at least that part was reasonably straightforward, and I had a good view for Social Queen’s victory. Venturing back into the dark building I did eventually find the paddock, although as one more used to the trees and green of Delaware Park’s paddock, it was quite a disappointment. I searched in vain for food and drink, but eventually gave up on both counts after determining that $8 for a 12 oz bottle of Stella was the best thing going. Ah well, money not spent on food could be money invested at the windows – and, indeed, the lines were reasonably short and the tellers friendly and helpful, so it wasn’t a bad bargain.

After throwing away money in the Hirsch Jacobs and Woodlawn by avoiding betting prohibitive favorites, I determined to sit out the Maryland Sprint Handicap and wait for the Dixie, which is always one of my favorite races on the Preakness undercard. I felt quite confidence that Parading would win and loved that there were decent odds on Wesley; finally, I’d get a halfway decent exacta payout. Alas, the unheralded Just as Well got in front of Wesley for second – the lesson learned was to never ignore the Julien Leparoux horse in a turf race.

Finally, it was almost Preakness time and the horses began to come out. Even on Belmont day with a Triple Crown on the line, I’ve never been in a crowd that was so enthusiastically backing one horse and one horse alone – when Rachel Alexandra came out the sound was deafening. Poor Mine That Bird got no more notice than Luv Guv as he walked by – although I did clap for him out of deference to his status as the Derby winner rather than through any sort of precognition. And he is a thoroughly appealing horse in person – compact and athletic, with a kind look about him – he seemed to be taking the big day in stride. Rachel Alexandra, by contrast, is nothing if not striking and looked every inch a champion. Although also unperturbed by the crowd’s attention, her more regal movement and posture suggested she knew you were there for her – and that she was ready to show these boys how it’s done.

Once they were saddled and passed us again, another huge roar went up for Rachel Alexandra – Calvin Borel was clearly having the time of his life. As the rain began to come down, I was glad I’d gone with my gut and placed an Oaks/Derby exacta – it had been threatening rain all day, and I presumed it was the only possible outcome if the skies truly opened. Having been rewarded in the Derby with an across the board bet on Musket Man, I also bet him to show – although I thought my Rachel Alexandra/Papa Clem/Big Drama trifecta was the more likely result.

From my vantage point it was impossible to see Big Drama acting up in the gate – it just seemed that they were loaded in for a very, very long time. At last the gates opened and as Rachel Alexandra used some early speed to make the front, the crowd cheered again – I simply breathed a sigh of relief that she would be clear of most of the field, but still feared a speed duel with Big Drama. However, I could see that after getting into position, Borel had a hold on her again and I relaxed – despite having to rush to the lead, she’d have something left at the end. It would not be a good strategy for the Belmont, but this was the Preakness – different tactics were called for, especially given her outside post position.

As they turned for home with the filly in front, it was obvious that most of the Derby colts were dropping out of the race – yet zooming although through traffic came plucky little Mine That Bird. But Rachel Alexandra would not be caught – she never even allowed him quite close enough to eyeball her and as she neared the wire, Pimlico erupted. After Rachel Alexandra finished (and she still didn’t let Mine That Bird pass her on the gallop out), there came further cheering; this was what a champion looked like, and the term could be applied to both the first and second place finishers. Well-bred stallions, it seems, simply aren’t up to the task – this is a job for fillies and geldings.

Mine That Bird reminded me of Megahertz again – a small brown blur coming from the skies in the closing strides of each race. Rachel Alexandra, by contrast, was in charge from the start and was going to stay that way – although she also seems to have more built-in versatility as far as her running style goes. One hopes we can see these two continue to face off for a long time to come – we are long overdue for our own Affirmed and Alydar. Whether they next meet in the Belmont or in the Haskell or Travers remains to be seen, but let’s hope in any case it’s a lasting rivalry. Both horses deserve it.

4 comments to Superfecta’s Preakness Adventure

  • Anonymous

    Yes- Instead of the usual disaster, lookee what happened! Racing triumphs at Pimlico despite it’s proclivities toward self destruction. Looking forward to the Belmont and the rest of Summer/Fall activities.

    While I appreciate the magnificent Rachel Alexander, I had a live and learn experience w/ Mine that Bird. When a horse wins the Derby, never underestimate it again. Fortunately I had some friends at Laurel who pointed out the error. I believe this is called Track 2.0.

    Unfortunately I did not include Minute Man in any triple, although he was mentioned in my beer haze and this blog. Consider the pigeon, hazed on glasses of Sam Adams and Bud. Yes- all that dang good beer from B-more, and that’s as good as it gets.

    Look forward to Pioneer of the Nile at longer odds. These also ran Triple Crown horses have done me many a fine favor later on. Always underestimated.

    Unfortunately, after next week, there will be no live racing in MD until August. See proclivities toward self destruction, above.

    Great Blog!


  • Ghostsnapper

    Great blog! I love hearing what the races and surrounding fanfare were like from a first-hand account. I wish I could’ve been there for the Preakness, but I got to see Rachel’s already legendary Oaks performance from the rail, so I can’t complain.

    Yes, let’s hope this is a long-lasting rivalry and that all horses remain sound and in perfect health. Jackson already said he hopes to train Rachel into 2010, and since the Bird has no stud to be going to, we may get just that.

  • Mr Will

    She did it! Rachael Alexandra becomes the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924.

    So, the question is: can a jockey win a triple crown? Calvin Borel, the jockey of Mine That Bird for the Kentucky Derby victory, made a great call when he decided to ride Rachael Alexandra over Mine That Bird in the Preakness.

    Generally, the Belmont is not all that exciting when a Triple Crown is not possible, but this time I think the excitement is mounting. We have a 50-1 shot taking the Derby, and the first filly in 85 years taking the Preakness; both of which have stirred up incredible fan support. Imagine another sport which leaves the choice: the underdog, or the underdog?

    Who is my Belmont pick? I say that the filly takes two out of three Triple Crown events, and wins the Belmont by at least one length. So much for a man’s game.

    Mr Will

  • Curlin4U

    Is it just me, or did Rachel look annoyed coming down the stretch? Although with Calvin Borel’s screeching about my ears, I would be annoyed as well. At any rate, she is mighty fun to watch! Thank you Jess Jackson for trusting in her!

    Still, she better be careful, Mine that Bird does not appear to suffer from “short man’s complex” and was gaining on her gamely. He is very endearing and I too look forward to their continued matches.

    Also, I have to give mad props to Musket Man… and, I am looking forward to seeing the return of Chocolate Candy in the Belmont(hometown fav!)

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