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What did we learn from the Preakness?

1. Rachel Alexandra is an exceptional race horse.

Not only did the filly come to Pimlico and beat down the colts, she had to do all the dirty work to get the job done. Rachel Alexandra spent the majority of the race slightly off of and/or right on the lead, while clicking off strong fractions of 23.13, 46.71, 1:11.01, 1:35.82, 1:55.08. She didn't come home in an incredible faction like she did in the Oaks but considering that the early numbers were particularly strong, it is difficult not to be impressed with the ability of this filly.

At the mile marker, RA had her largest lead of the race, approximately four lengths, which Mine That Bird and Musket Man cut into but were never able to erase. Post-race commentary suggested that another 1/16th or 1/4 mile, and RA would have been over-come by her competitors. I think that is only true if the early part of the race is run in the same fashion as the Preakness. But, in my opinion, had this been a longer race we would have likely seen slower fractions up front in the early part of the race leading to a possibly fresher front-runner in the stretch.

As for the filly vs. colt situation, once again we see that a top-class filly can complete with the colts here in America, just as they do in Europe and in Asia.


2. Mine That Bird is better than most people gave him credit for.

The Post-Derby talking points in the handicapping community centered around the notion that Mine That Bird was a fluke, and that he would likely never again win a graded stakes race. That notion should be completely dead now. If not for the talents of an exception filly, Mine That Bird would be 2/3rds of the way to the Triple Crown...you don't get to that point by being a fluke.


3. Attendance and handle are not necessarily tied at the hip.

Preakness officials made the unpopular decision to not allow patrons to bring in their own alcohol to the infield like in the past and the result was an empty infield and a significantly reduced attendance figure. The reduction in attendance, however, did not impact the most important number, handle, as wagering was up 21% over 2008 (DRF: Wagering Strong on Preakness).

The Preakness might have had 30,000 less people in attendance, but it looks as though those 30,000 did very little to impact the bottom line.

Handle is the critical number for any track; attendance is a bonus. This is an excellent example that the people who bet are more important that those that come to the track and buy a hot dog and a soda while waving at the pretty horses. That might seem like a harsh statment, but facts are facts. The people that bet determine the success or failure of the track. If a facility is able to provide bigger fields and better racing, even at the expense of "promos" or other attendance drivers, it should move in that direction.

In years' past, the Preakness infield was filled with 30,000 drunk co-eds that partook in beer bongs, Honey Bucket racing, and an assortment of other activities that I've haven't participated in since college. I'm sure it was a blast for all of those involved. But in terms of the impact on Pimlico itself? Well, you wonder if those 30,000 ever placed a single bet while they were there. My guess is 'no'.




4. Belmont could be a free-for-all.

I won't be surprised is Rachel Alexandra decides to skip the mile and a half Belmont Stakes in three weeks. The Preakness was obviously a very tough race for her and she didn't look like a horse that wanted to get a mile and a half (at least right now); that final 3/16's of :20 seconds indicated a horse that, while clearly the best in the race, was tiring in the deep stretch. Had she gone another 1/16th, we'd probably be talking about at :26 second final quarter.

On the other hand, Mine That Bird's pedigree and running style suggest he might love the mile and a half distance in New York. Throw in some new shooters, and the return of a couple Derby participants (Dunkirk, Chocolate Candy), and it could make for a very interesting betting race.


5. Distaff of Classic at Santa Anita?

With Jess Jackson and Steve Assmussen calling the shots now, I wonder which direction this filly will be pointed towards the rest of the season. The Classic division looks fairly week at this point, but the Distaff division has tremendous depth all around. Not only do we have last year's champion filly, Zenyatta, still racing, but we've now got Rachel Alexandra, Stardom Bound (last year's 2 YO filly champion), and Cocoa Beach (a horse I loved in the Breeder's Cup last year). You could make a very strong argument that the Distaff division is several levels stronger than the Classic.


6. Friesen Fire flopped about as bad as a horse can in both Triple Crown races.

The favorite prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby finished a disappointing 10th at Pimlico. Friesen Fire pressed the early pace but was nowhere to be found when the real running began in the stretch. Looks like the long lay-off after the Louisiana Derby wasn't the best choice for this colt, or perhaps he's just a miler.