The biggest single story heading into the Preakness on Saturday is the filly, Rachel Alexandra. She’s the first filly since 1999 to run in the race, and only the third since the start of World War II. No filly has won since 1924. She was sold last week, reportedly for as much as $10 million, and her new owners have paid $100,000 to make her eligible for this race because she wasn’t previously nominated for the Triple Crown. She has been installed as the strong 8/5 favorite in the 13 horse field, and I expect that price to be even lower by post time. You have to be certain that there is real value if you are going to bet on a horse with odds that low, so the biggest puzzle to address between now and post time is whether or not this filly is for real. That’s for every bettor to decide for themselves, but here’s a look at the arguments in her favor, and those that go against her:
Rachel Alexandra will win because:
– Her win in the Kentucky Oaks, the 20 length tour de force, was the single most impressive performance I have seen this year. She was as dominant as a horse can be, and she wasn’t even trying. If she’d really been pushed she could have won by 30.
– Earning a Beyer rating of 100 or greater in two races before the Preakness has been a very good indicator of past success in this race. The filly is the only horse in the race to have earned that distinction.
– The favorite has hit the board in 19 of the last 23 editions of the Preakness, running three of them.
– Filly or not, she is one physically imposing horse. She’s massive, and she has a stride that devours ground.
– She has won five races in a row and hasn’t been touched.
Rachel Alexandra won’t win because:
– There’s a reason fillies don’t often run in Triple Crown races. Running against the boys is a major jump in class – especially the first time. That’s especially the case here because she hasn’t faced particularly strong fields of fillies. Injuries and scratches left the Oaks field incredibly weak behind the star.
– The filly likes to be on or near the pace from start to finish. That running style hasn’t worked well in the Preakness lately – only three of the last 23 editions have been won by front-end speed.
– She’s starting from the 13 spot – the far outside position. It will take a lot of work to get from there to the lead. Perhaps too much. She has lost three of her ten races, and all came when she found herself well off the lead a half mile in.
– 23 of the last 25 Preakness winners also ran in the Derby
– There will be a lot of front end speed in this race. Big Drama, Friesan Fire and Tone It Down could all be looking for a piece of the lead along with the filly. She hasn’t often been tested up front that much, and it opens the way for a potentially devastating speed duel. That’s exactly what happened with the last filly that won the Derby. In 1998, Winning Colors locked into a ferocious battle up front with Forty Niner. It was more than she could stand, and she was lucky to hold on for third.
– This will be her fifth race in 13 weeks. That’s a lot for a horse of this level. On top of that, she has changed stables, trainers and routines since her last outing. That’s a lot for a horse to process. This also isn’t the race she was originally aimed for. The plan was originally for her to have a five week break after the Oaks.