Rachel Alexandra Gets Rave Reviews Sunday A.M.; Mine That Bird On Course For The Belmont Stakes

BALTIMORE, MD 05-17-2009


RACHEL ALEXANDRA – At 6 a.m. Sunday, just under 12 hours after her impressive victory in the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra left Pimlico for the return trip to trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Asmussen said the filly owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick, would go back to the track on Wednesday and would probably have her first post-Preakness work on Monday, May 25. Since Jackson and McCormick purchased the filly about 10 days before the Preakness, Asmussen and his staff are still getting to know her. She had one workout between the purchase and the race, where she became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness.

"This time, we have something to measure it to, as far as how she feels and how she's acting,” Asmussen said. “It's our first comparison, so to speak. We're not going to tell her how she's feeling. She'll tell us how she's feeling." Asmussen did not rule out the filly running in the Belmont Stakes, but he didn’t commit to it either. He said he will relay information about how Rachel Alexandra recovers from the race and performs in the breeze to Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke. "I personally think she's proven what he set out to prove with her immediately, which doesn't eliminate anything,” Asmussen said. “But I think it does take a tad of the urgency off it." Asmussen smiled at a question about the need to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown with a filly. "The reason she ran in the Preakness is because she was doing extremely well,” he said. “If you're doing extremely well, what are you waiting for? I think if they're doing well, you ought to run them. We're just going to pet on her and tell her how great she is for a little while and see where that leads her." With her front-running victory, Rachel Alexandra validated the decision to run her against males just over two weeks after she crushed the field in the Kentucky Oaks. It was Asmussen’s second win the Preakness in three years. Curlin gave Asmussen his first classic in 2007, rallying to regain the lead from Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. “I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get into this position,” Asmussen said. “The overwhelming feeling is pride.”

MINE THAT BIRD – Trainer Chip Woolley reported that his Kentucky Derby winner was feeling fine on the morning after his runner-up finish in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Mine That Bird failed to duplicate his last-to-first Derby performance Saturday, but his last-to-dangerously close-second-place finish behind Rachel Alexandra at Pimlico was still mighty impressive.

“Nobody can question his ability. Like I said: in the Derby, he passed 18 horses in a quarter of a mile – 18 of the best horses around in a quarter of a mile. There’s no fluke in that,” Woolley said. “He did the same thing (Saturday). He made a huge move and ran hard. We just didn’t get there.”

Mine That Bird dropped back to last again Saturday before picking up the chase on the far turn. Yet, unlike the circumstances in his rail-hugging Derby run under Calvin Borel, the little gelding’s new rider, Mike Smith, was forced to swing wide to circle a wall of horses in front of him on the turn into the homestretch. Mine That Bird made a strong wide run through the stretch, cutting Rachel Alexandra’s lead from four lengths to one at the finish of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“Any time you have a horse that lays last in a 13-horse field, you’ve got a big chance of having traffic trouble. This track, the way it was set up, I was really concerned about getting a good trip around there. Sure enough, the horses stacked up on the turn and hurt us,” Woolley said. “We couldn’t get one smooth run through there and we had to check a few times and were in tight. Mike did a great job riding the horse. I’m thrilled to death. I couldn’t ask more from the rider. Things didn’t quite set up like you’d like. That’s horse racing.”

Woolley plans to van his gelding back to Churchill Downs on Monday to prepare him for a start in the Belmont Stakes on June 6.

“My horse will be much more suited to the Belmont – big wide track, big wide sweeping turns. It should play a little better to my horse. It’ll probably be a shorter field, which eliminates some of the traffic,” the New Mexico-based trainer said. “We’re excited about going. As long as he’s good the next couple days, like he looks this morning, that’ll be the plan.”

Woolley revealed that Smith will have the mount aboard Mine That Bird in the Belmont, even if Rachel Alexandra bypasses the third leg of the Triple Crown, leaving Borel free.

“Like I kept telling people, the key to him was getting him back. He’d never been taken back and sat on like that before, and that’s what I’d been trying to make happen,” Woolley said. “I, finally, in Calvin, found a guy who would lay him back there and do it like I wanted to do. Then, of course, Mike followed suit very well (Saturday) and did a super job for us.”

Woolley credited Smith, a fellow New Mexican, for giving Mine That Bird a heads-up ride, especially during a traffic build-up on the final turn.

“If Mike stays on the fence any longer than we did, we’d have ended up in real trouble,” he said. “They were just stacked up on us, and if we’d have stayed on the fence, we sure would have been in trouble.”

Woolley continues to have great admiration for his hard-trying gelding.

“You’ve got to be super proud of him. The horse runs through his bridle,” he said. Everything you ask of this horse, he just does it, lays it on the line.”

The emergence of Mine That Bird as a star on the Triple Crown trail has been a rewarding experience for his trainer.

“You spend a lifetime working to get here. It’s kind of a stamp on your career when you win that first one. Then, you come back and re-stamp that same stamp on the next on,’ Woolley said. “There’s no doubt we got him where we wanted him.”

Mine That Bird, a 50-1 Derby long shot who was sent to post Saturday as the 6-1 third betting choice, is expected to have a presence in the East this year.

“Hopefully, we’ll run well in the Belmont. Then, we’ll probably spot him again here somewhere. It’s such a long, hard trip from where we are that we’ll keep him out here,” Woolley said. “As long as we’ve got spots were aiming at, we’ll stay in this vicinity, somewhere within a decent hauling distance.”

In the short term, Woolley will concentrate on getting Mine That Bird ready for the Belmont Stakes and a possible rematch with Rachel Alexandra.

“I’m not sure what their plans are, but if she comes, I guess we’ll see her,” said Woolley, perhaps not as much in awe of the filly as the other trainers of Preakness starters. “It would make for a great horse race.”

BIG DRAMA – Owner/breeder Harold Queen dropped in on Big Drama Sunday morning at the Preakness Stakes Barn, reporting that his fifth-place Preakness finisher was doing well, except for “a couple of nicks.”

Big Drama, who bobbled at the start after being fractious in the gate, prompted the early pace from the inside while lapped on by pacesetter Rachel Alexandra.

“If he doesn’t stumble out of the gate, we’d probably have been second.” Queen said. “He stumbled out of the gate, and it was all over for us. We’d never be able to catch that filly. What an amazing filly she is. Unbelievable. They could have gone around there again and they weren’t catching that filly. Our colt wasn’t handling the track, but neither was she. That filly wasn’t handling the track. She strided out so much better at Churchill Downs.”

David Fawkes will ship Big Drama to Monmouth Park, where the Calder-based trainer has a division of horses. He ruled out a start in the Belmont Stakes. The ultimate goal for the son of Montbrook is the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park.

FLYING PRIVATE/LUV GOV – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Sunday morning that the fourth-place Preakness finisher Flying Private may go on to the Belmont Stakes June 6 at Belmont Park. He wasn’t sure where Luv Gov, who finished eighth Saturday, would run next.

“Flying Private was going around here playing and raising hell,” Lukas said. “He really was full of himself. He’s as sharp as a tack.”

Lukas said that he brought Flying Private to Baltimore even though the colt finished last in the Kentucky Derby because Derby also-rans sometimes return to form in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Flying Private did perform much better at Pimlico, finishing four lengths behind Rachel Alexandra and earning $66,000 for owners William Mack and Robert Baker.

Flying Private and Luv Gov are scheduled to be shipped back to Churchill Downs on Monday morning.

In the days leading up to the Preakness, Lukas said he was impressed with Rachel Alexandra and predicted that she would run well.

“She is extraordinary,” Lukas said Sunday. “That was a nice effort. She did everything I thought she’d do. I watched her all winter. That didn’t surprise me a bit.”

FRIESAN FIRE – Trainer Larry Jones, as gracious in defeat as he is in victory, said Sunday that he couldn’t explain why the colt dropped out of contention coming off the second turn and finished 10th in the Preakness.

“Everything we ran looks good and Friesan Fire looks just fine,” Jones said. “No major complaints. We ended up scoping him later Saturday and there was nothing. We don’t see any excuses that he could have this time other than the fact that he didn’t come down the lane as fast as he should have. He was sitting in a good spot at that point. Actually, I loved the way he was sitting early in the race. I can’t blame it on anything. The pace was apparently what it should be because the horse that we were following won the race. I wish I could come up with a real good excuse, saying I know how to keep that from happening next time, but there are no reasons that we can see right now.”

Friesan Fire was shipped back to Jones’ barn at Delaware Park Sunday morning.

“We’ll sit down and regroup and see what’s next,” Jones said. “I’m sure we’re not headed for the Belmont, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll find him a spot he’ll fit in.”

Jones said he expected the A.P. Indy colt would be back in action within a month. Friesan Fire won the Louisiana Derby on a muddy track and ended up as the 7-2 betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby, which was run over a sloppy sealed track. He finished next to last and came out of the race with cuts on his legs. He healed quickly, though, and turned in a sharp work for the Preakness.

“It’s quite a humbling experience working with these things,” Jones said. “It’s not that we had a horrible day racing yesterday. We ran five horses across the country yesterday. We won two of them. So we won 40 percent of our races, but we still go home feeling like we’ve had a bad day. That’s what it boils down to.”

Jones was a believer in Rachel Alexandra long before she wowed the nation with her stunning performance in the Preakness.

“What a magnificent filly she is,” he said. “I’ve run against her three times and I see that same thing all the time. I keep looking for tail lights to come on and they don’t ever come on. She just keeps on rolling. We’ve chased her three different times and I think the closest I’ve come to her is 11 ½ lengths. And I’ve taken the best ones I’ve had and run at her. She’s special.”

GENERAL QUARTERS – Trainer Tom McCarthy walked the son of Sky Mesa in the shed row Sunday morning just before 8 a.m. and said he would return to Churchill Downs Monday with his one-horse stable.

“He came out of it real well, but somebody went down the side of his (left front) leg,” said the 75-year-old retired high school principal, whose colt finished ninth. “It didn’t go deep; it just took the hair off. We got hit on the other side also, and that was just a little deeper. I think it happened when he hit the top of the stretch.”

The son of Sky Mesa appeared to be making a threatening rally and was sixth heading into the stretch.

“Just as he started making his move right where we wanted him to at the quarter-pole, he got hit,” McCarthy said. “I’ll be damned, that’s the second time he got hit in a stake (Tampa Bay Derby). I think it took the breath out of him.”

McCarthy said he’ll give General Quarters some time off (this was his 13th career start), then may look to either the Ohio Derby or the Indiana Derby for his next start.

“I’m going to look for something that will be a little easier,” he said. “We’ve been going against the best horses in America. I just want to back off a little bit and let him regroup and get a confidence builder.”

MUSKET MAN – The son of Yonaguska extended his streak of in-the-money finishes to 8-for-8 by running third in the Preakness, but that’s the end of the Triple Crown trail for the Derek Ryan-trained colt.

“He came out of the race good, no problem,” said Ryan, who stayed around for the sale at nearby Timonium on Sunday. Musket Man vanned back to his base at Monmouth Park Saturday night.

“No Belmont, definitely,” Ryan said. “He’s going home and we’re going to freshen him up and get him ready for the Haskell (Sunday, Aug. 2, Monmouth).”

Musket Man ran third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, finishing only 1 ½ lengths behind Rachel Alexandra in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He is now 5-for-8 lifetime with three thirds, earning $893,600 for owners Eric Fein and Vic Carlson.

PAPA CLEM – Trainer Gary Stute and his sixth-place finisher were headed back to California Sunday morning after competing in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and the son of Smart Strike will get some time off from a campaign that has been going virtually since November.

“He came out of the race fine,” said Stute, who was attempting to match the feat accomplished by his father Mel in 1986, when he won with his first Preakness starter (Snow Chief). “He needs a little rest right now. We don’t have anything specific in mind for him; we’ll just kind of play it by ear.”

Papa Clem was a close-up fourth approaching the three-sixteenths pole, but didn’t threaten in the late running. Still, Stute said his entire Preakness experience was an enjoyable one.

The elder Stute was at the track Saturday to see if Papa Clem would become the second Preakness winner for the family.

“He didn’t say much after the race,” Gary said. “He seemed to be more interested in (betting) the 13th race.”

PIONEEROF THE NILE – Ahmed Zayat’s homebred colt left Pimlico early Sunday morning for a flight that would take him back to trainer Bob Baffert’s stable at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby, ended up 11th in the Preakness.

TAKE THE POINTS – Starlight Partners’ colt trained by Todd Pletcher was shipped back to Belmont Park Sunday morning. He came out of the race in good shape. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Take the Points was sitting a stalking trip about five lengths behind Rachel Alexandra for the first half of the race. He was caught six wide on the second turn, was eased in the stretch by jockey Edgar Prado and finished last in the field of 13.

TERRAIN – Trainer Al Stall Jr. reported that Terrain “cooled out well” after his seventh-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. Terrain, who was shipped back to his Churchill Downs base early Sunday morning, ran into traffic on the turn into the homestretch.

“He ran into a wall of horses and lost his momentum,” said Stall, who confirmed that Terrain will not run in the Belmont Stakes. “It looked to me that the track was a little deep, and he didn’t pick it up again.”

Although disappointed in Terrain’s finish, Stall was impressed with Rachel Alexandra.

“I think she was as advertised. Besides showing her talent, she showed some grit. It looked like she was struggling a little bit,” he said.

TONE IT DOWN – Trainer Bill Komlo, a Maryland backstretch fixture for years, will look for more competitive spots for Deborah and Michael Horning’s son of Medaglia d’Oro after finishing 12th in the Preakness.

“He seems to be recuperating fine,” said the 73-year-old conditioner, who trains Tone It Down for his daughter and son-in-law. “He doesn’t look too much worse for the wear. We’ll walk him three or four days and give him a chance to get back to himself. We’re going to give him a little vacation and then look for some races where we can rekindle his mind, so he can get back out there and make some money for us. We knew going in that we were either going to be happy or sad because of the competition in there.”

It was an otherwise enjoyable Saturday for Komlo, who got a visit from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and finished in the money in three races on the undercard.

“He stopped by,” Komlo said. “He knew the Horning family because he was from that area and went to Georgetown Prep. He stayed quite a while with us.”