- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

As the camp for Rachel Alexandra continues to weigh the pros and cons of running in the Belmont Stakes, everybody else is in a holding pattern.

Chip Woolley is waiting to see if Calvin Borel will be available to ride Mine That Bird.

The other trainers are waiting to finalize their game plans based on the filly’s presence.

And the New York Racing Association is waiting to see if its race will have any buzz.

If the Preakness winner is entered, she will become only the 23rd filly to run in the Belmont. Only three have won.

If Rachel’s camp deems a third race in 37 days too taxing, Mine That Bird will be the probable favorite as Borel goes for his personal Triple Crown. Owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen have until Wednesday to decide whether their superstar is fit enough for the 11/2-mile race June 6.

“I don’t see them running her,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Charitable Man. “It would be hard on her and tough on her to win the Belmont. … But if they do run her, you have to respect her. It would mean a lot to the Belmont Stakes and New York racing, and if she’s not in it, it takes a little bit away from the race.”

Jackson isn’t a proponent of running females against males, so most in the sport would be surprised if he decides to enter Rachel.

“I believe it would be good for racing,” Woolley said. “It sure brought out a lot of people, and now that she’s beaten my horse, it’s probably built up [attention] even more.”

Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby as a 50-1 shot and rallied from last to finish second in the Preakness. If Rachel doesn’t run, Borel will be back on Mine That Bird.

Woolley initially set a deadline of this past Monday for Borel and his agent to make a decision but extended it after meeting with Borel.

“I don’t want Calvin sitting on the sideline when I run my horse in the Belmont,” Woolley said. “I’m going to give him as much time as possible. I feel like I owe him that.”

Mine That Bird would be a deserving favorite because of his performance in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and because his breeding suggests he’ll embrace the long track.

“He’ll go into this race strong,” Woolley said. “Fortunately, my horse only runs three-eighths of a mile, so the Triple Crown probably hasn’t been quite as hard on him.”

Woolley knows the Belmont is a different deal for closers. His gelding will have to be closer to the pace because the opening fractions are slower. In the past 20 years, six winners have closed from seventh place or farther back but haven’t rallied from the double-digit margins Mine That Bird did in his past two races.

Horses who skipped the Preakness to be fresher for the Belmont will pose a challenge. Charitable Man won the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes his last time out and is 2-for-2 at Belmont Park. Charitable Man had enough graded earnings to run in the Kentucky Derby, but McLaughlin thought three weeks of preparation wasn’t enough time to get fully fit.

“It’s hard to pass up the Kentucky Derby, but decisions need to be made for what’s best for the horse,” he said. “I just felt running back after the Blue Grass Stakes was not the best thing going forward the rest of the year.”

But after seeing Mine That Bird win in a shocker?

“I’m never going to pass up the Derby again,” McLaughlin said with a laugh. “It’s going to take a lot more.”

Of those who ran in the Derby and skipped the Preakness, Chocolate Candy is the best. He finished fifth at Churchill Downs and has been training on the Belmont strip for several weeks. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he expects his runner to improve in his second race on natural dirt.

“He ranks right up there,” he said. “I thought he was one of the best horses going into the Triple Crown races, and I hope he validates that on June 6.”

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