Super filly Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths and with Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel on board for the Preakness, looks to become the first filly in 94 years to win the Preakness Stakes. She will take on Derby winner Mine That Bird, Derby runner-up Pioneerof The Nile and up to 11 other horses as NBC Sports presents exclusive coverage of the 134th running of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., beginning Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, live in high definition.
Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby winner as an improbable 50-1 longshot, seeks to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 but he will have to do it without his Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel. Instead, Borel will be on Rachel Alexandra who he rode to a 20-length win in the Kentucky Oaks. Hall-of-Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Mine That Bird.
The story of Rachel Alexandra being entered into the Preakness and the firestorm of media coverage that ensued, including the connections of Pioneerof the Nile and Mine That Bird talking about colluding to keep the filly out of the race, makes this, according to NBC’s Bob Neumeier, “the most fascinating Preakness in decades.”
Rachel Alexandra, who was sold shortly after her dominating performance in the Kentucky Oaks with her new owners entering her in the race, will be only the fourth filly since 1980 and the 53rd filly ever to enter the Preakness. No filly has won the Preakness Stakes since Rhine Maiden in 1915 and Rachel Alexandra is also the only winner in the 135-year history of the Kentucky Oaks to enter the Preakness Stakes.
FILLIES IN PREAKNESS STAKES SINCE 1980
· Genuine Risk 1980 (Won Kentucky Derby, 2nd in Preakness)
· Winning Colors 1988 (Won Kentucky Derby, 3rd in Preakness)
· Excellent Meeting 1999 (5th in Kentucky Derby, pulled up in Preakness)
NBC Sports horse racing analyst Gary Stevens rode the filly Winning Colors to a Kentucky Derby victory in 1988 and took third at the Preakness. He said “Rachel Alexandra makes goose bumps stand up on the back of my neck, like a good race horse used to when I was on her back.”
FILLIES TO WIN PREAKNESS STAKES
· Rhine Maiden 1915
· Whimsical 1906
· Flocarline 1903
RACE COVERAGE: NBC Sports coverage of the 134th Preakness Stakes is co-hosted by Tom Hammond and Bob Costas alongside two-time Preakness winner Gary Stevens. NBC Sports’ broadcast team also includes race-caller Tom Durkin; contributing analysts/handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier; reporter Kenny Rice and on-track reporter Donna Brothers, who retired in 1998 after an impressive 11-year career as a jockey. The Preakness Stakes on NBC is produced by Sam Flood and directed by David Michaels.
NBC SPORTS BROADCAST TEAM BREAKS DOWN THE PREAKNESS:
STEVENS ON THE PREAKNESS FIELD: “This is a great setup for the Preakness with Rachel Alexandra going in there. She provides an honest pace and will be able to stick around and she doesn’t have to be on the lead, she’s very versatile. That should help Pioneerof the Nile because I think what he needs is a horse with class and speed that can carry him within the shadows of the wire. When Pioneerof the Nile gets in front he seems to go aloof a little bit and think the game is over. Rachel Alexandra will carry him and get a much better effort out of him. I also think there is going to be much more early pace than there was even in the Kentucky Derby. So what does that do to Mine That Bird? It helps his chances of repeating the Derby performance. If he can repeat the Derby performance, this race setup may be even better for him.”
STEVENS ON RACHEL ALEXANDRA’S CHANCES OF WINNING: “She’s the best I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m just worried about the new connections and if she can come back this quick in two weeks rest and repeat the same performance. She’s going to have to run equally as well in the Preakness as she did in the Kentucky Oaks to beat this field.”
STEVENS ON WHERE RACHEL ALEXANDRA RANKS AMONG FILLIES: “I rode three fillies that are in the Hall of Fame: Winning Colors, Serena’s Song, and Silverbulletday. I don’t want to take away anything from any of the great fillies that I rode but Rachel Alexandra makes goose bumps stand up on the back of my neck, like a good racehorse used to when I was on her back.”
STEVENS ON MINE THAT BIRD WITHOUT BOREL: “I don’t think that it’ll make any difference. It may have made a difference going into the Kentucky Derby because I don’t think anybody else would have been brave enough to ride him like Calvin did, he had taken the horse back so far. But Mike Smith is a Hall of Famer. We saw the ride that he put on Giacomo when he won the Kentucky Derby; he wove his way in and out of traffic. He’s in a class of his own. He has studied films. For me it’s like the San Francisco 49ers when they went from Joe Montana to Steve Young it wasn’t a bad changeup.”
HAMMOND ON SO MANY DERBY HORSES IN PREAKNESS FIELD: “Seven horses from the Derby, including the top four finishers, are coming back for the Preakness so Mine That Bird hasn’t scared anybody away. The other trainers want to find out if he is for real.”
HAMMOND ON RACHEL ALEXANDRA ENTERING PREAKNESS: “Certainly Rachel Alexandra is capable and you can see this from the reactions of owners and trainers. A couple of owners even thought about maybe trying to keep her out of the race by entering another horse, that tells you how much they think of her and how much respect they have for her.”
HAMMOND ON RACHEL ALEXANDRA’S SIZE: “She’s as big and strong as many of the horses in the race, in fact bigger and strongly than the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, who is just a little bit of a horse himself.”
HAMMOND ON BOREL’S AMAZING RIDE ON MINE THAT BIRD: “Chip Woolley, the trainer, said that he thought that Mine That Bird had been ridden incorrectly his last two starts. He thought he had moved prematurely, moved too soon. He thought that it was a horse that wanted to lay back and make one big run. Calvin Borel went on You Tube to watch some of the prior races from Mine That Bird before he rode him in the Kentucky Derby and he agreed with that assessment. He looked like a horse that wanted to conserve early and then make one big move. It takes a lot of confidence. It takes a certain kind of jockey to be able to drop as far back as he did and wait as long as he did. The patience he showed was just unbelievable. Then to have the courage and confidence to gun him through that little spot on the rail and give the horse credit to go through a spot like that, a lot of horses won’t do that. It may have been a fluke, and we’ll find out on Saturday, but that’s not taking anything away from the ride that Calvin Borel gave him and the performance that Mine That Bird Put up.”
BATTAGLIA ON THE PREAKNESS: “The Preakness definitely is a different race with the presence of Rachel Alexandra. She will definitely be the favorite and with good reason. It wasn’t just the fact that she won the Oaks by 20 lengths; it was also the way she did it. She appeared to be just galloping and Calvin Borel didn’t ask her to run at any point in the stretch. Running against the boys with just two weeks rest is a formidable task but from what I saw in the Kentucky Oaks it will take a lot to beat this filly.”
THE PREAKNESS ACCORDING TO NEUMEIER: “It may not be exactly akin to the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King but the late emergence of champion filly Rachel Alexandra into the Preakness field does set up a fascinating new dynamic into the race.
“Typically, fillies have difficulty competing with colts at the highest levels of racing, which helps explain why a filly has not won this race in 94 years, but Rachel Alexandra is clearly in her own racing stratosphere, as her eye-popping 20-length win in the Kentucky Oaks would attest.
“To underscore the point, her jockey Calvin Borel has given up the mount on Kentucky Derby upset winner Mine That Bird to ride “Rachel,” a startling, almost unprecedented move. Add to it the fact that the co-owner of the Derby winner and the owner of runner-up Pioneerof the Nile were conspiring to find ways to keep the filly out of the race makes the story even juicier. Add it all up and you have the ingredients to the most fascinating Preakness in decades.”
STEVENS ON “DARK HORSES” TO WATCH: “You’ve always got to be concerned about the fresh faces that are coming in. Big Drama is coming in and getting a lot of respect right now. I think all of the additions are going to have a tough time beating my top three, Rachel Alexandra, Pioneerof the Nile and Mine That Bird.”
NBC SPORTS FEATURE ON MINE THAT BIRD: Mine That Bird with jockey Calvin Borel shocked the millions of viewers watching the Kentucky Derby as he passed 18 horses on his was to winning the Derby as a 50-1 longshot. In a feature during the Preakness broadcast NBC Sports will look back at how the undersized gelding first purchased for $9,500 defeated a field of highly touted million-dollar thoroughbreds. The feature will tell the story of the horse’s unlikely connections — three horsemen from New Mexico — to the jockey who guided the colt to victory, only to leave to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. NBC Sports will look at how the biggest thoroughbred racing upset in years came to be, and how the team behind Mine That Bird has continued to overcome obstacles on the way to the second leg of the Triple Crown.
PREAKNESS STAKES LUCKY U GAME: NBC Sports and The Maryland Jockey Club of Baltimore City present The Preakness Stakes Lucky U Game, a contest where a lucky fan can win a cash prize and a trip to the 2010 Preakness Stakes. After the field for the 2009 Preakness Stakes is set on Wednesday, May 13, horse racing fans will be able to vote for the horse that they think will win. The winner will receive $10,000 in cash and a 2010 Preakness Stakes VIP Experience provided by The Maryland Jockey Club, including tickets to the Preakness and other Preakness Stakes events, round-trip transportation, and accommodations. Viewers of NBC’s Preakness Stakes broadcast and other fans will be invited to enter by sending a text message for their choice from their cell phone. Standard text messaging charges apply. Fans can also enter by going online to NBCSports.com/lucky.
WATCH MINE THAT BIRD ON NBCSPORTS.COM: Go to NBCSports.com and follow Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird on an isolation camera.
SEE THE PREAKNESS ON YOUR MOBILE PHONE: Users on the go can watch the Preakness Stakes live on their mobile phones through NBC2Go and NBC Sports Mobile.
PREAKNESS A RATINGS SUCCESS ON NBC: Since 2001 when the Preakness Stakes moved from ABC to NBC, average viewership has increased by more than 2 ½ million viewers an increase of 50% over the previous eight years on ABC.
KENTUCKY DERBY HAS MOST VIEWERS IN 20 YEARS: NBC Sports’ coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was the most viewed Kentucky Derby in 20 years. The race averaged 16.3 million viewers, two million more than last year’s 14.2 million (up15 percent) and the most since 1989 when Sunday Silence won the Derby (18.5 million).
NBC Sports coverage of the Kentucky Derby now reaches seven million more viewers than the last Kentucky Derby broadcast by ABC in 2000 (16.3 million vs.9.1 million, up 51 percent).