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Competitors dread facing famous filly

Beth Harris Associated Press

BALTIMORE – Larry Jones knows something about running a filly against the boys in a Triple Crown race, and he’s not looking forward to the threat posed by Rachel Alexandra.

The trainer saddled Eight Belles to a gallant second-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby before she broke her front ankles past the finish line and had to be destroyed on the track.

Now Jones is preparing to send this year’s beaten Derby favorite, Friesan Fire, in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes against stellar filly Rachel Alexandra, who has won five consecutive races by a combined 43 1/2 lengths.

“Anytime the horse is as fast as her, you wish you didn’t have to run against them,” Jones said Tuesday. “I’ve chased her twice with fillies. If I’ve got any shot of beating her, it’s going to have to be with a boy. I ain’t got a filly that can try her.”

Perhaps because she’s beaten her fellow females so soundly, Rachel Alexandra is gearing up to test herself against new rivals.

Coming off a smashing 20 1/4 -length victory in the Derby eve Kentucky Oaks, Rachel Alexandra is expected to be among at least 13 horses entered today for the 1 3/16 -mile Preakness. That’s when the filly’s owner, Jess Jackson, has to pony up a $100,000 supplemental fee because she wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown races.

Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli has already said he would make Rachel Alexandra the morning-line favorite. No filly has won the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924.

Gary Stute, who trains Papa Clem, isn’t thrilled by the prospect of taking on Rachel Alexandra.

“Personally, it’s a little disappointing, but for racing I think it’s great,” he said. “I figure it should bring 20-30,000 extra fans here on Saturday. … Racing is in kind of a downward spiral right now, and this can only help it in the long run.”

Jones may not welcome the extra competition, but he has no qualms about a filly going against the boys a year after the Eight Belles tragedy thrust horse racing into a heated debate on such issues as safety and treatment of the animals.

“If they run her in the Preakness, it shows me they have confidence that we didn’t mess up running Eight Belles in the Derby,” he said. “It wasn’t the fact that there was boys in there that made her do what she did. That wasn’t why Eight Belles had her problem.”

The imposing presence of Rachel Alexandra steals much of the spotlight from Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who hasn’t scared away the competition as he tries to back up his 50-1 upset by winning the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Mine That Bird arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday evening via the same humble way he traveled to the Derby from New Mexico – in a trailer hitched to trainer Bennie Woolley Jr.’s pickup truck.

The trip took about 10 hours, with Woolley driving despite a broken right leg. His only stops were for the restroom and food.

Mine That Bird came off the trailer, got washed off and then posed for photos with the police officers who escorted him on the last part of the trip.

“He’s a good shipper,” Woolley said. “Nothing bothers him.”

Most of the other the Preakness runners were flying into Baltimore.

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