High drama surrounds preparations for Saturday's 134th running of the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.
The question is: Will Rachel Alexandra, the runaway winner of the Kentucky Oaks, get the chance to run against Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird -- and a dozen other 3-year-olds -- in the Preakness?
The super filly was sold after her Oaks win to a partnership including Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick. She was transferred from trainer Hal Wiggins to Steve Asmussen with the intention of running her in the Preakness.
However, the Preakness field is limited to 14 starters and preference is given to horses nominated to the Triple Crown series. Rachel Alexandra was not nominated. She could be made eligible for a $100,000 supplementary fee but original nominees still would be given preference.
As late as Saturday, it appeared only 13, including the filly, would be entered for Pimlico Race Course's marquee event. But Sunday, the Maryland Jockey Club reported things were in flux.
The MJC quoted Ahmed Zayat, the owner of the Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, as saying in a Sunday morning television interview that he had been contacted by Mark Allen, the co-owner of Derby winner Mine That Bird, who discussed entering other horses to exclude Rachel Alexandra. However, late Sunday afternoon, Zayat told Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas that he intended to enter only Pioneerof the Nile.
Separately, trainer D. Wayne Lukas Sunday announced he plans to enter an unexpected starter, Luv Gov. Luv Gov is owned by Mary Lou Whitney, who also owns Birdstone, the sire of Mine That Bird.
Zayat could have two reasons for keeping Rachel Alexandra out of the field: She easily could win the Preakness, and jockey Calvin Borel, who rode both the Oaks and Derby winners, said he will stick with the filly if she runs Saturday.
Whitney's interest would be in seeing a son of her stallion have a chance at Triple Crown immortality.
"Rachel Alexandra had an impressive workout today and she is ready to run in the Preakness," Jackson said in a statement. "Since it's Mother's Day, I wish I could announce to all mothers everywhere that this incredible filly is entered to take on the boys. But Triple Crown rules may prevent us from sending her to Pimlico.
"I want the fans to know that we are prepared to enter her and I'm hopeful that her entry will be accepted. I know that we all want the thrill of seeing her race next weekend."
Rachel Alexandra worked a half mile in 48.40 seconds Sunday morning at Churchill Downs with exercise rider Dominic Terry at the controls, posting fractions of 12.4 and 24.4.
"I think she's doing extremely well," Asmussen said. "Every sight of her has been impressive and I'm just happy to get this light move in this morning under good conditions."
In other Triple Crown news:
-- The third jewel of the Triple Crown, the June 6 Belmont Stakes, got another likely contender when Charitable Man blew by the early speed in Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont and drew off smartly to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Imperial Council. Brave Victory was third. Charitable Man, a Virginia-bred colt by Lemon Drop Kid, picked up his third win in four starts, finishing the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.13. Alan Garcia had the mount for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. McLaughlin said he will discuss the Belmont with owner William Warren. "But he is definitely bred to go a mile and a half and he likes this track and he did it the right way today. So we'll look at it," the trainer said. Lemon Drop Kid won the 1999 Belmont, spoiling Charismatic's Triple Crown hopes, after finishing third in the Peter Pan. The last horse to win both races was A.P. Indy in 1992.
-- At Lone Star Park in Texas, Mythical Power displayed some very real kick in the stretch run of Saturday's $400,000 Lone Star Derby, breaking loose from a half dozen rivals to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Red Lead led briefly at the upper stretch and held on for second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Dumar. Mythical Power, with Victor Espinoza riding for trainer Bob Baffert, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.79. The Kentucky-bred Congaree colt now has two wins from five starts. "He's a nice horse to ride with a lot of natural speed," Espinoza said. "I rode him in his first start and I thought he was the type of horse who would like going longer." Baffert said the colt "has really improved and I think you're going to see bigger things from this horse."
In other weekend racing:
Mastery, running for the first time in the colors of Godolphin Racing, won Saturday's Italian Derby at Capannelle Race Course in Rome and moved into contention for the June 6 Epsom Derby. With Frankie Dettori up, the son of Sulamani stayed close to the pace, accelerated when asked and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Turati. Jakkalberry, who ran erratically in the final meter, finished third. Mastery previously raced for Sheik Hamdan bin Rasheed al-Maktoum.
Silver Frost unleashed a powerful run in the late going to win Sunday's French Two Thousand Guineas at Longchamp, setting up a potential run in the French Derby June 7 at Chantilly. With Christophe Soumillon up, the Verglas colt stayed off the pace, then ran by the leaders to win by 2 lengths over Le Havre. He now has six wins from nine starts. In Sunday's French One Thousand Guineas, Elusive Wave led the way and held on late to win by 1/2 length over Tamazirte. The favorite, Fantasia, finished third.
In Japan, Jo Cappuccino came from off a quick pace to upset Sunday's NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo Racecourse, winning by 2 lengths over Red Spada. Grand Prix Angel finished third. Jo Cappuccino, a son of Manhattan Cafe, now has four wins from six starts this year after going winless in his 2-year-old season.
Turns out it was Ball Four, not previously unbeaten Rail Trip, who got the rail trip in Saturday's $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap. Ball Four, an 8-year-old Grand Slam gelding, got the lead and the rail under Joe Talamo, turned back a challenge from Rail Trip at the top of the lane and went on to win by a comfortable 1 1/4 lengths. Rail Trip held second, 1/2 length ahead of Dakota Phone. Ball Four, trained by Patrick Biancone, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:41.58. "At the quarter pole," Talamo said, "I tried to leave him (Rail Trip) as quick as I could -- try to open up as much as I could -- and he did. He's a neat old horse."
Witty rallied by pace-setting favorite Carlsbad in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Railbird Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Carlsbad held second, a head in front of Will O Way. Witty, a Kentucky-bred filly by Distorted Humor, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.74 with Victor Espinoza riding.
Stuck in Traffic came three-wide, avoiding traffic, at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) New Providence Stakes and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Legal Move. Yummy With Butter was third. Stuck in Traffic, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred colt by Kiridashi, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.57. Eurico Da Silva had the mount for trainer Nicholas Gonzalez and changed the winner's usual front-running style. "He sat off the speed a little farther than I thought he would," the rider said. "He's grown up and he's a big boy now, so maybe he's going to do that from here on in. I wasn't really surprised he won. It was the way he did it … Who knows? Maybe he'll go on to bigger and better things."
Smart Surprise was no surprise to the fans in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Hendrie Stakes for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old Smart Strike mare went off as the favorite and used a six-wide rally down the lane to get home first, a neck to the good of Proud Heiress. Authenticat finished third. Smart Surprise, with Patrick Husbands up, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.01.
Presque Isle Downs
Great Love stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Tom Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds, got to the lead at the top of the stretch and won a sustained stretch battle, finishing 1/2 length to the good of He Ain't Right. Perfect Officer finished third. Great Love, a Maryland-bred colt by Great Notion, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.08 with Erick Rodriguez up.
One Smokin' Lady battled Southern Yankee on the into the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, put that rival away and then held off Onearmedbandit to win by a neck. Southern Yankee finished third. One Smokin' Lady, a Kentucky-bred Smoke Glacken filly, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.36 under Frankie Pennington.
Lone Star Park
Valid Stripes tracked the pace into the backstretch in Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes, challenged nearing the turn and then opened up a big lead when allowed to run. At the wire, the Valid Expectations gelding held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-running Huntersrunaway. Justwill was third. Valid Stripes, with Kirk LeBlanc in the irons, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.7.
City Tone came from far back to win the $125,000 filly division, with odds-on favorite Seven Seventythree falling a head short of catching the winner in the final jumps. The Cat Who finished third. City Tone, a daughter of City Street, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.79 with Chris Landeros up.
Banrock drew off in the stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Kingston Stakes for New York-breds by 4 3/4 lengths over Mission Approved. Stormy Success finished third. Banrock, a 6-year-old Go for Gin gelding, covered the 1 1/16 miles on soft turf in 1:45.68. Kent Desormeaux had the mount for trainer Thomas Bush.
Acting Zippy tracked Unwritten into the stretch in Saturday's $70,000 Decathlon Stakes, got by in the final sixteenth and won by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival. He's So Chic finished third. Acting Zippy, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by City Zip, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.22. Eddie Castro rode for trainer William Bennett.
Access Fee, the odds-on favorite, dueled one rival into submission in Sunday's $70,000 Red Cross Stakes for fillies and mares, then held off D'Wild Ride in the final strides to win by a head. By the Light finished third. Access Fee, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred filly by Menifee, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.90 with Luis Garcia up.
Snapphok split rivals at mid-stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Chester House Stakes and drew off to post a 23-1 upset. The favorite, Telling, also rallied late but fell 1 3/4 lengths short. Tiger Woodman was third. Snapphok, a 6-year-old, Illinois-bred gelding by Unreal Zeal, ran the 1 1/16 miles on soft turf in 1:51.12. Inez Karlsson rode for trainer James Gulick. "I expected him to run well," Gulick said. "The soft turf fits him and it maybe it hindered some of the others but it certainly didn't affect him in a negative way."
Secretintelligence set a pressured lead in Saturday's $75,000 Lyman Handicap for Pennsylvania-breds, edged clear at the top of the lane and then held on gamely to win by a neck over Movin' Out. Whistle Pig finished third. Secretintelligence, a 6-year-old Smart Guy gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.07 with Justin Shepherd up.
Marie Soleil rated off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Foxy J.G.S. Stakes for state-bred distaffers, then drew clear and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Jet Away Jane. Miss Blue Tye Dye was third. Marie Soleil, a 4-year-old daughter of Louis Quatorze, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.11 under Abel Mariano.
Almost Time got the lead at the quarter pole in Saturday's $55,000 (Canadian) Jim Coleman Province Stakes for 3-year-olds and drew clear, winning by 2 lengths over Tommy Danzigger. El Cugat finished third. Almost Time is a British Columbia-bred gelding by Finality. He got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.49 with Francisco Fuentes in the irons.
What R the Odds pressed the pace in Sunday's $55,000 (Canadian) Emerald Downs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and then went by to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Dandy Dora. Ookster was third. What R the Odds (1.5-1, actually), a Florida-bred daughter of Lightnin N Thunder, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.81 under Fernando Perez.