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Rachel Alexandra mows down the boys

BALTIMORE — In the span of less than two weeks, virtually everything that was familiar in Rachel Alexandra's life was altered almost beyond recognition.

But in her first try against the best males of her generation, Rachel Alexandra displayed the same devastating ability that earned her the reputation as the most feared member of her class.

The 77,850 who ventured to Pimlico Race Course on Saturday departed with a little piece of history in their memory banks after Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra held off late-running Kentucky Derby hero Mine That Bird by 1 length to become the first filly in 85 years to capture the Preakness Stakes.

Instead of carrying the colors of Dolphus Morrison — the man who bred both her and her mother — the bay filly is wearing the gold and burgundy silks of Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables.

And instead of taking up residence in the shedrow of Hal Wiggins — the man who helped develop her otherworldly talent — Rachel Alexandra is now watched over by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.

But when facing the biggest alteration of her young career — taking on the boys — one vital aspect of Rachel Alexandra's world remained unchanged Saturday.

She was a winner again.

No filly had started in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown since Excellent Meeting in 1999, and no distaffer had won the middle jewel of the Triple Crown since Nellie Morse became the fourth to do so in 1924.

As she crossed the wire beneath regular rider Calvin Borel — who gave up the mount on Mine That Bird to stay with the filly he has ridden to six straight victories — Rachel Alexandra completed a wild two-week journey.

Just days after her 201/4-length victory in the Oaks on May 1, the filly was bought privately by Jackson and partner Harold McCormick from Morrison and Mike Lauffer and subsequently transferred to Asmussen's barn the morning of May 7.

Shortly after the sale went through, Jackson announced the bold plan to supplement Rachel Alexandra — who was not Triple Crown nominated — into the Preakness, saying she deserved the opportunity to prove she was the best 3-year-old in training, period.

Despite battling a track that didn't seem to her liking and a pace that cooked all those who tried to follow her, Rachel Alexandra validated every one of her new owner's claims and then some.

"A Thoroughbred wants to run, and if a filly is as good as the colts, they ought to compete," said Jackson, who also won the 2007 Preakness with eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. "That was my position and that's why we came.

"One of my worries was that she might be hooked and have to compete early and get tired. She did and she won anyway."

While Rachel Alexandra ended up controlling the race on the front end as expected, how she completed the task was not part of the plan.

Known for normally breaking clear in front of her competition, Rachel Alexandra left the gate a bit awkwardly, but recovered in time to avoid being hung extremely wide on Pimlico's tight first turn.

"She wasn't away as clean as she usually is," said Asmussen, who also trained Curlin. "With her being off the bridle early and for her to finish up the way she did, I'm very proud of her. She's a true champion."

With Big Drama along the rail prompting her and Friesan Fire just off her heels, Rachel Alexandra zipped through fractions of :23.13 for a quarter-mile and :46.71 for a half. She began to edge clear around the final turn despite not moving with her normal ease on the Pimlico track.

"My filly kind of struggled the last quarter of a mile," said Borel, who became the first jockey to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown on two different horses. "When she went to reaching like I know she can, the ground was breaking out under her a bit.

"I had to reach and pick her up about the quarter pole but ... I think we could have went another round with her. She is just unbelievable. I've never ridden a horse with so much confidence in my life."

As Rachel Alexandra opened up by 4 lengths in the lane, Derby victor Mine That Bird began churning through the field after rating at the rear of the pack.

The gutsy gelding answered critics who thought he was a fluke when he swung out seven-wide and unleashed a powerful kick down the lane. But unlike two weeks ago, that move was only good enough for runner-up honors as Rachel Alexandra covered the 13⁄16 miles in 1:55.08.

"I'm thrilled to death with the way my little horse ran," trainer Chip Woolley said. "I thought we had a chance at the eighth pole. But you have to give that filly credit. She's a great one."

Musket Man, third in the Kentucky Derby, again held for show money a half-length behind Mine That Bird while Friesan Fire and Grade I winner Pioneerof the Nile both faded to finish 10th and 11th, respectively.

Rachel Alexandra's world now is entirely different than the one she knew just 11 days earlier, and in three weeks it could get even more complicated should she go on to the Belmont Stakes.

"The Belmont is always a consideration for a champion," Jackson said.

But in delivering another breathless performance, Rachel Alexandra has morphed from potential superstar to legend in the making.

"All along I knew she was the best horse to ride," Borel said. "I'm paid to win and I knew she was going to win."

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