Since we are reliving Tom Durkin's many great race calls with the news of his pending retirement, it seems appropriate to continue our journey into Preakness memories with the 2009 running of the race.
It was a most unusual Triple Crown season, with Mine That Bird stunning the Kentucky Derby field at 50-1 and his rider, Calvin Borel, left the a choice of staying on the Derby winner or switching to the filly, Rachel Alexandra, who had crushed her rivals by 20 lengths under Borel in the Kentucky Oaks.
Borel chose the filly, becoming the first Derby-winning jockey to ride against his Derby mount in the Preakness. Rachel Alexandra came to Baltimore under new silks as well, having been purchased six days after the Oaks victory by the late Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables in partnership with Harold McCormick. Previously trained by Hal Wiggins, she was placed in the barn of Steve Asmussen.
Since Rachel Alexandra was not Triple Crown nominated, Jackson paid a supplemental fee of $100,000 to get her into the Preakness.
She would not disappoint her new connections, nor her many supporters in the crowd of 77,850 at Pimlico. Surely, the number on hand to witness her feat would have been larger had it not been for a new infield policy that banned racegoers from bringing in beer that year.
Breaking from the far outside post in the field of 13, Borel used the run into the first turn to guide Rachel Alexandra to the head of the pack. If her challengers were going to beat her this day, they would have to catch her.
They did not. Leading at every call, Rachel pulled away in the stretch. Although Borel admitted she struggled a bit late, she proved too tough to run down. Mine That Bird made a late bid under new jockey Mike Smith but finished a length behind.
“This is the greatest horse I've ever been on in my life,” Borel said after the race.
“Gender doesn't matter,” said Jackson. “If a filly is as good as the colts, they ought to compete. I'm delighted that our decision was vindicated.”
While she skipped the Belmont, Rachel would close out 2009 with three more Grade 1 starts, winning them all, including another victory against colts in the Haskell and a climactic triumph in the Woodward over older males. Her exemplary 3-year-old season was capped off with Horse of the Year honors in a famous voting battle with the great Zenyatta.
Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years and remains one of only 11 females to win a Triple Crown race.
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