Preakness entrants wary of Rachel Alexandra

BALTIMORE — Having already been soundly defeated twice by Rachel Alexandra, trainer Larry Jones has come to this realization as he prepares Kentucky Derby favorite Friesan Fire for a redemptive ride in the Preakness:

"If I have any shot at beating her," Jones said Tuesday, "it's going to have to be with a boy."

That boy will be Friesan Fire, who finished a disappointing 18th out of 19 horses in the Derby. The colt had cuts on his left front hoof and all four legs after being bumped early in the race at Churchill Downs, but the Louisiana Derby winner looked sharp while covering five furlongs at Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday morning in a blistering 58.4 seconds.

"I was very pleased with the way he healed," Jones said. "If you didn't know he had an issue, you wouldn't know it. All is well. We're ready to go."

Problem is, so is Rachel Alexandra. The filly has won five consecutive races by a combined 431/2; lengths, including a 201/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby.

"Anytime a horse is as fast as her, you wish you didn't have to run against them," Jones said. "I raced her twice with fillies; I got beat 191/2; lengths with one filly, but all of a sudden, that don't sound so bad after she won the Oaks by 20. My wife's horse only got beat by eight (lengths), so I think my wife's horse is a star."

A filly hasn't won the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924, but this is no ordinary lady.

"This filly here is something that we haven't seen in horse racing in a while. This really might go down in the record books as being one of the nicest to ever wear a tack," Jones said. "I'm very impressed with her."

Jones knows a thing or two about a filly competing in a Triple Crown race. In last year's Kentucky Derby he saddled Eight Belles, who finished second before she broke her front ankles past the finish line. The horse had to be euthanized on the track.

Jones contended that the accident had nothing to do with pitting a filly against a field filled with colts.

"That wasn't why Eight Belles had her problem," he said.

Many of the trainers in the Preakness are wary about going up against a filly, for reasons that have nothing to do with the health of Rachel Alexandra. Actually, it's because the horse is so darn good.

"There is going to be a lot of excitement with that filly in there. She's a wonderful filly. She's an incredible athlete," said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who plans to bring Pioneerof the Nile from Kentucky to Baltimore on Wednesday.

The jockeys are thinking about her, too.

"It's a real nice filly. Now it runs with boys, let's see," said Gabriel Saez, who will ride Friesan Fire. "There's going to be a little more pressure on her this time."

All the talk about Rachel Alexandra has deflected attention from Derby winner Mine That Bird, who won by seven lengths as a 50-1 long shot. If Mine That Bird is to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive, he will do so with a different jockey in the Preakness because Calvin Borel has committed to riding Rachel Alexandra.

The Derby winner arrived at Pimlico on Tuesday evening after being driven from Churchill Downs. He received an escort from Baltimore City police over the final leg of the trip, which took less than 10 hours.

"I called a friend on the way and said it's the first time I've had the police leading me instead of chasing me," trainer Chip Woolley said before leading his horse into Stall 40, reserved for the Kentucky Derby champion.

Although much of the pre-race buzz is about Rachel Alexandra, Mine That Bird cannot be overlooked.

"If you didn't like the way that horse came down the lane that day, if you can't get excited about that, you need to watch something else other than horse racing," Jones said. "Here is a horse that went through a hole that wasn't there, and he came home fast. He came home as fast as Secretariat. Hopefully for horse racing he can do it twice in a row. For my sake, hopefully he can't."

The post positions and odds will be determined Wednesday. Jones knows his horse won't be the favorite this time around, but expects Friesan Fire to at least get some consideration at the betting window.

"He was the favorite for the Derby, and a lot of these horses either were in the Derby or didn't make the cut at the Derby. So we've got to feel we stack up," he said.

"Hopefully I'll do better with a little longer shot. I don't think there's any doubt Rachel will be the heavy favorite if she goes in," Jones added. Pioneerof the Nile has definitely earned his reputation, and you've got to like the Derby horse. If we could be fourth choice in this thing, I think that would be good. Hopefully we'll go and run and show maybe why we were the Derby favorite."

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