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A girl among boys

Scott Jagow May 11, 2009

If you watch the Preakness this Saturday, you might very well see a girl beat a bunch of boys. But the filly was almost kept out of the race by a soap-operatic sequence of events involving the owner of the feel-good 50-1 longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby.

You can read the whole story on the Paulick Report, but I’ll give you the abridged version.

A filly named Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks (for fillies only) by a stunning 20 lengths the day before the Kentucky Derby. Fillies don’t race against the colts that often, but there was talk that she was so good, she should’ve run in the Derby. Rachel’s owner declined, in part citing the fatal injury to Eight Belles in last year’s Derby.

But a few days after 50-1 Mine that Bird upset this year’s Derby, wine billionaire Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson fame), bought Rachel Alexandra and indicated he might run her in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. He’d have to pay a $100,000 supplemental for her to enter, but she wouldn’t be able to get in if 14 Triple Crown-nominated horses entered the race.

So, yesterday, Ahmed Zayat, owner of the 2nd place Derby horse, Pioneerof the Nile, said he and Mine that Bird’s owner, Mark Allen, discussed the idea of entering two extra horses just to keep the filly out of the race. She scares them, apparently, and it was also a move keep Mine that Bird’s jockey, Calvin Borel, from switching to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness.

Well, the racing blogs lit up with cries of sexism and unsportsmanlike conduct. Another owner, Mary Lou Whitney, said she would withdraw her horse so that Rachel could get in. Later in the day, Zayat and Allen (of Alaska bribery scandal fame) both came out and said they had decided against trying to subvert Rachel Alexander’s bid.

Horse racing can probably use all the attention it can get considering there’s a Save the Preakness campaign underway. The track’s owner is the bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp. And the track that hosts the Derby, Churchill Downs, is considering cutting back from five days of racing a week to four because of the economy and a shortage of horses.

But the business always seems to shoot itself in the hoof. The bad elements tend to overshadow the good, probably because the sport’s structure and oversight are such a mess. A Seabiscuit-esque 50-1 ? A strong girl running against the boys? Those are positive stories. Or at least they ought to be.

Hopefully, you’ll get to see Rachel run on Saturday. She’s a sight to behold. The last time a filly won the Preakness was 1924. But as long as she comes out of the race safe and sound, here’s hoping she shows the boys how it’s done.

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