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Belmont run not certain for 'Rachel'

BALTIMORE — In the days prior to Rachel Alexandra's 201/4-length triumph in the Kentucky Oaks, her then-trainer Hal Wiggins mused which Triple Crown race he thought would be the ideal fit for the filly.

"(The Belmont Stakes) would be my choice because ... with her running style she would get out there real easy on the lead," Wiggins said at the time.

In the aftermath of Rachel Alexandra's 1-length triumph in the 134th Preakness Stakes on Saturday, Wiggins' original theory may now be put to the test.

Now that Rachel Alexandra has backed up those who said she was the best sophomore of either sex by becoming the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness, the wait is on to see if her connections put the final leg of the Triple Crown on her itinerary.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, co-owner Jess Jackson — who purchased Rachel Alexandra in partnership with Harold McCormick last week — said a start in the Belmont Stakes "will be determined by how she rebounds from this race."

When the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro departed Pimlico Race Course for Churchill Downs early Sunday morning, her new trainer Steve Asmussen reiterated they would take their time before committing the star filly to her next challenge.

"I personally think she's proven what (Jackson) set out to prove with her immediately, which doesn't eliminate anything," said Asmussen, who has only had Rachel Alexandra in his barn since May 7. "I think it does take the tad of the urgency off of it.

"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."

Given the way Rachel Alexandra shrugged off a staunch early pace and surface she was uncomfortable on to win Saturday, speculation is rampant on what would have happened had she been in theDerby.

Even if Jackson had purchased her prior to the Kentucky Derby, the wine mogul said he would not have indulged those who say the multiple Grade I winner could have had a shot at being the first female Triple Crown winner.

"I would have done what the previous owners (Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer) did too. I would have kept her out of the Derby," Jackson said Saturday. "That's a calvary charge, twenty horses. Anything goes. I wouldn't have put her in there."

If Rachel Alexandra does go on to the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes in three weeks, Kentucky Derby hero and Preakness runner-up Mine That Bird will be waiting.

The gelded son of Birdstone emerged from his gritty late-running effort in good form, according to trainer Chip Woolley and will van to Churchill Downs on Monday to prepare for the Belmont.

"There you have the wider sweeping turns for one, but also the added distance will be a benefit to my horse," Woolley said. "It'll probably be a shorter field which eliminates some of the traffic. We're excited about going."

Though he couldn't prevent history from being made Saturday, Mine That Bird quieted critics who said his Derby win at odds of 50-to-1 was an aberration.

The bay gelding had to deal with some less than ideal circumstances in his rally from last in the 13-horse field. He was forced to go extremely wide under jockey Mike Smith heading into stretch when horses began backing up in front of him.

"Mike was trying to be patient and lay in there but it wasn't going to happen so he had to make something happen," Woolley said. "He had to go around, he got checked again, and Pioneerof the Nile kind of gave it up there going for home and about run over him.

"I'm sure it will erase any doubts but as far as me, I didn't need much vindication," Woolley continued. "The horse ran a great race in the Derby and they couldn't take that away from him no matter what happened yesterday."

Other than the Preakness's 1-2 finishers, the only other horses from the race under consideration for the Belmont are the D. Wayne Lukas-trained duo of Flying Private and Luv Gov, who ran fourth and eighth, respectively.

Though his connections hoped he would rebound after his 18th-place finish as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Friesan Fire showed none of the form that has earned him three graded-stakes wins as he faded to tenth after rating in third through most of the race.

"We don't see any excuses that he could have this time other than the fact he didn't come down the lane as fast as he should have," trainer Larry Jones said. "We'll sit down and regroup. I'm sure we're not headed for the Belmont but we'll see what happens."

Preakness ratings up

Rachel Alexandra's victory in the Preakness earned the race its highest overnight television ratings since 2004 and its second highest rating since 1990.

NBC said on Sunday that the race portion of Saturday's broadcast drew a 7.9 rating and an 18 share. That's up 27 percent over last year, when the much-hyped Big Brown won to take the first two legs of the Triple Crown.