Rachel Alexandra, above, became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes when she prevailed in 2009 under Calvin Borel. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
It was apparent very early on in racing history that owners and trainers wanted to test their fillies against the stiffest possible competition, and there is no greater challenge in U.S. racing than the Triple Crown.
While it is not as common in U.S. racing in 2014 as it was in the infancy of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Loooch Racing Stable and Christopher Dunn will send Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.
Calvin Borel, who guided Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra to victory in the 2009 Preakness, will ride Ria Antonia in the Preakness. After a stellar effort in this year’s Kentucky Oaks, many thought jockey Rosie Napravnik might get to the Preakness with Untapable. Instead, she is booked to ride a speedy colt named Bayern.
RIA ANTONIA AFTER WINNING BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE FILLIES
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Fillies have been a part of the Triple Crown story from the start. A filly named Ruthless captured the first Belmont in 1867. Flower Girl was slated to start in the second Preakness in 1874 but was scratched before the start after she dumped her rider and jumped a fence. Two fillies were among the 14 horses to face Aristides in the first Derby, and nine of the 22 fillies ever to compete in the Belmont did so in its first five years before the Derby or Preakness even existed.
Only three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby, and only three fillies have won the Belmont, but all three of those Belmonts were at different distances: Ruthless in 1867 at 1 5/8 miles; Tanya in 1905 at 1 ¼ miles; and Rags to Riches at 1 ½ miles in 2007. Five fillies have won the Preakness, dating to Flocarline in 1903.
Some of the best fillies of their generations have taken on the colts at Churchill Downs. Notably, Alcibiades in the 1930 edition of the Derby won by the eventual Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox; Althea in the 1984 Kentucky Derby; Serena’s Song in the 1995 Derby; and, of course, the unforgettable Eight Belles in 2008.
Likewise, the Preakness and Belmont have attracted some of the best fillies of their crop, including Silverbulletday in the 1999 Belmont Stakes, Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness in 2009. Running a filly against colts is considered a sporting, if sometimes risky, enterprise. Some fillies, however, are more than up to the task.
RAGS TO RICHES WAS UP TO THE TASK IN THE 2007 BELMONT
Video courtesy of NYRA
Yet very few connections have been willing to enter their filly in more than one jewel in the series. Even though fillies won both the Derby (Regret) and Preakness (Rhine Maiden) in 1915, neither was among the field of three horses to race in the Belmont that year. In the history of the series, only four fillies were entered in more than one leg of the Triple Crown.
One of Calumet’s foundation mares, Nellie Flag, a daughter of the 1924 Preakness-winning filly Nellie Morse, ran at Pimlico like her dam. But Nellie Flag also contested the Derby in Louisville in 1935 — the year the series was swept by Omaha. And in the same year that he entered Silverbulletday in the Belmont Stakes for owner Mike Pegram, trainer Bob Baffert saddled Excellent Meeting in both the 1999 Derby and Preakness. Only two fillies have raced in all three jewels of the Triple Crown. Both won the Derby. Prior to the first Saturday in May, LeRoy Jolley’s Genuine Risk faced the colts in the Wood Memorial Stakes and finished third. After finding the winner’s circle at Churchill in 1980 under rider Jacinto Vasquez, Genuine Risk finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Winning Colors won the 1988 Kentucky Derby with Gary Stevens aboard and then held on for third in the Preakness after a wide trip, but she faded to last in the field of six after setting the pace in the Belmont, which was won by Preakness victor Risen Star.
Only three active riders have won a Triple Crown race aboard a filly. In addition to the aforementioned Stevens, the others are John Velazquez on Rags to Riches and Borel aboard Rachel Alexandra, but only Borel has a chance to write another chapter in the history books on fillies in the Triple Crown with Ria Antonia.
STEVENS RODE WINNING COLORS TO VICTORY IN THE 1988 DERBY