May 16th, 2009

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

The Preakness

A lot of hype and hoorah from various people preceded this race--and it almost lived up to it. 

Mine That Bird lost his Kentucky-Derby-winning jockey, Calvin Borel, because Calvin--who had been on Rachel Alexandra when she won the Kentucky Oaks, thinks she's the best horse he's ever ridden and chose her for the Preakness.   He also lost surprise--as the videos of the race show, jockeys were looking back to keep an eye on Mine That Bird until he passed them--which he did.  But he had to go wide around the turns to catch up, as the inside jocks were as close to the rail as Borel was in the Derby, and though he was closing on Rachel Alexandra at the wire, she had a 3/4 length lead.  Mine That Bird was a closing second.   His jockey, Mike Smith, said if he'd had another 1/16-1/8 mile, he thinks he'd have caught Rachel Alexandra.

Footing was softish, what I call "cuppy"--deep cushion, little support, though not slippery like mud.  It was clear by the middle of the backstretch that Rachel Alexander didn't much like it--you can see her digging at it when asked to accelerate.   Borel said she wasn't happy with the track, that she prefers Churchill Downs, which has less cushion.   He said she struggled when he asked her to speed up--but she did it.   Mine That Bird doesn't seem to give a flip what the track is like: muddy with compaction underneath, or soft, or artificial...what I saw when he turned on the juice was the same determined little horse with a kick like a ramjet working his way up from last to (almost) first.   Rachel Alexandra didn't give up, but she didn't quicken enough to hold Mine That Bird off at an even distance or take back more lead. 

Those who thought Mine That Bird was a one-race horse and maybe a fluke now have to face reality: this horse is good. He won at a mile and a quarter coming out the middle of  the gate after being bumped hard on both sides at the start.  he damn-nearly won today after coming out of the number two hole and forced to go wide around Pimlico's second and notorious turn.   He is perfectly willing to get into the scrum with bigger horses and push right on through--an attitude that many very fast horses don't have.  He can be beaten, but you have to work at it, and he has a late-race kick like I haven't seen in a long, long, LONG time. we look at the mile and a half Belmont.   If Mine That Bird is fit, I don't think there's any doubt he can handle the distance.  (He looked a bit ganted to me--I'd like to see him pick up 50 pounds or so in the next three weeks.)   I don't think there's any doubt he's got the kind of gutsy fighting spirit you want in a racehorse.  So far, none of the others have shown the closing speed and endurance that he does, not even Rachel Alexandra.  What's the Belmont surface like?  Well...that's going to be a factor for her, though I suspect not for Mine That Bird.   My guess is that she can run a mile and a half on a surface she likes...but what if she doesn't?