‘Rachel’ draws outside post

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BALTIMORE | Rachel Alexandra is favored to become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, but she will have to run the longest race among the 13-horse field to do it.

The 3-year-old starlet of racing, who did not run in the Kentucky Derby, was installed as the early 8-5 favorite Wednesday after drawing the outside post position.

The last time a filly was favored to win the Preakness was in 1988.

“I’m very happy with the draw,” said Rachel Alexandra’s assistant trainer, Scott Blasi. “Ideally, we wanted to be toward the outside. There’ll be a lot of pressure put on her, but I think she’ll put herself in a good spot.

“I just like feel like with her being a filly and all the pressure that’s gonna be put on her, she’ll have a long run into the first turn. She’s got good tactical speed, and that will give her a chance to get into position. … I’d rather have 13 than 1.”

Blasi was filling in for Rachel Alexandra’s new trainer, Steve Asmussen, who was busy getting her situated after arriving from Kentucky only about an hour before the draw.

Mine That Bird, who was the second-biggest long shot (50-1) to win the Kentucky Derby, was installed at 6-1 starting just off the rail in the No. 2 post. But the second choice in the early odds was Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile at 5-1, trained by recent Hall of Fame electee Bob Baffert.

Calvin Borel will be the jockey aboard Rachel Alexandra. It was Borel whose spectacular ride along the rail, passing 18 horses down the stretch on a muddy track, propelled Mine That Bird to a 6 3/4-length win in the Kentucky Derby. It was the race’s biggest margin in 63 years. But Borel chose to ride the filly, and Mike Smith will be aboard Mine That Bird.

“You never want to make that change right after winning the Derby, but it happened,” said Mine That Bird trainer Chip Woolley, still on crutches from a broken leg suffered in a motorcycle accident. “But Mike Smith is a great rider, and we’re glad to have him. I think his style of riding will fit my horse. He’s patient; he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s got great instincts.”

Woolley said he had no hard feelings about the move, citing professionalism from Borel’s camp.

Rachel Alexandra is unbeaten in five starts since Borel became her jockey, winning by a total of 43 1/2 lengths. The filly was purchased by Jess Jackson after the Kentucky Oaks and was not an original Triple Crown nominee.

A couple of owners considered blocking Rachel Alexandra from racing in the Preakness, but negative public opinion dispelled such notions when news of the plot surfaced.

“She’s just very special,” Blasi said, echoing a popular sentiment. “She’s one-of-a-kind.”

Baffert said Rachel Alexandra’s presence “brings a different flavor to racing.”

“Maybe this is what racing needs,” he said. “We need something like this to really boost that we have a great sport, and I’m glad she’s in there.”

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