The chess match involving Rachel Alexandra in today's Preakness has created big drama at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Purchased by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick after a record-setting Kentucky Oaks win, and embroiled in a controversy in which two owners and a trainer eventually dropped a plan to block her entry, Rachel Alexandra has been the talk at Old Hilltop.
She can become the first filly since Nellie Morse (1924) to win the Preakness, and do it under Calvin Borel, who will ride her despite guiding Mine That Bird to the second-largest upset in Kentucky Derby history on May 2. But three colts with area connections — Big Drama, Musket Man and General Quarters — want to play spoiler. The latter two began their Triple Crown journeys at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar: Musket Man winning the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby, and General Quarters taking the Sam F. Davis and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. They ran in the 19-horse Kentucky Derby, where Musket Man was third and General Quarters 10th.
Big Drama didn't enter the Run for the Roses, recovering from a shin injury. Now, Clearwater owner-breeder Harold Queen, 73, is turning his speedster loose, only his second race in 163 days. "It's exciting to get a shot to go in," trainer David Fawkes said. "I'm really pleased the way the Derby ran, and it gives me the opportunity to come in with a fresh horse."
Big Drama drew the No. 1 post and expects to contest Rachel Alexandra, in the No. 13 stall, for the early lead. How far can they go? Will the pair clock blistering fractions, helping potential late runners? Had Rachel Alexandra been committed to the Preakness immediately after her 201/4-length Oaks victory on May 1 at Churchill Downs, Fawkes said Big Drama likely would have gone elsewhere "because her running style may hurt our horse." He added: "Not taking anything away from her — it seems like a lot of people duck her. She hasn't faced the best horses yet; I could be wrong."
Big Drama has finished ahead of every horse in his past six starts but was disqualified to second for bumping a rival in the 7-furlong Grade II Swale Stakes on March 28 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, his lone 2009 start. John Velazquez will ride the 3-year-old Montbrook colt in his first race longer than 11/16 miles. "Early on, we had decided we weren't going to go to the Derby," Fawkes said. "There's a lot of races in front of us and (Queen) wants to race the horse as an older horse."
GREYHOUNDS: Craigie Londoner (Race 6, 8:51 p.m.) and Dewey Millions (Race 10, 10:07 p.m.) drew No. 1 boxes in tonight's third round of the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Stakes at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.