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IT'S A GIRL THING: HOPES ARE RIDING ON 'RACHEL'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ann Quasman, the host of a Baltimore talk-radio show aimed at women, isn't exactly the world's biggest horse racing fan.

But she's bursting with excitement - and feminine pride - over Rachel Alexandra, the filly competing against history in today's Preakness Stakes. Quasman and many others predict the "girl horse" will defeat the boys.

"Girl Power at the Preakness!" Quasman trumpeted yesterday on her Twitter account.

"Whenever you have something that happens for women, no matter what shape they come in, that's unusual," the host at WCBM-AM (680) says, laughing. "Yay! And you go, girl!"

Rachel Alexandra is turning the heads of women who pay horse racing little attention - to say nothing of those who do. They're joining the filly's Facebook page, studying racing forms and digging in their wallets to place bets on her.

The filly is also bringing some much-needed star power to the struggling racing industry.

"Anything that can inject some life into this sport," says Allie Conrad, executive director of CANTER Mid-Atlantic, a Maryland racehorse rescue organization, who's rooting for the filly and hoping her sheer athletic power can help turn the sport around.

"This horse seems to be unstoppable. ... She's a machine," Conrad says of the filly who has won seven of her 10 races. "All the boys were trying to enter horses in the Preakness 'cause they are terrified that she's going to come in there and clean their clocks. I think that's pretty cool."

Calvin Borel rode Rachel Alexandra to victory in the Kentucky Oaks and 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird to the Kentucky Derby win a day later. He surprised many by leaving the Derby winner to ride Rachel Alexandra; he calls her "the best horse I've ever been on," in the Preakness.

Fillies rarely compete in elite races. That's mainly because the males, pumped with testosterone, are built stronger and are faster.

With a win today, Rachel Alexandra - the 8-5 morning-line favorite and the only female of the 12 horses on the track - would be the first filly adorned with black-eyed Susans in 85 years. The last to earn that honor was Nellie Morse in 1924.

The last time a filly even entered the Preakness was 1999, when Excellent Meeting failed to finish the race.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, the city's first female chief executive, identifies with what Rachel Alexandra is trying to do. She plans to bet on the filly - if she can figure out how to do it.

"This is the year of the woman," she said. "I'm going to put something on her."

Even after Dixon's spokesman explained that Rachel Alexandra would be racing from a tricky outside pole position, the mayor wasn't deterred.

"Women have been on the outside before," she said. "Women know how to get back to the inside."

At Pimlico Race Course on Friday, every woman seemed ready to put money on the horse with the glossy chocolate coat and the sassy stripe down her nose.

Friends Lisa Sutliff and Lora Mowbray, experienced bettors from Roanoke, Va., said everyone they know is betting on the filly.

"She's gonna do it. She's gonna take it all," Mowbray said, as Sutliff interjected: "She's gonna make us proud."

Mowbray said jokingly that Rachel Alexandra might employ a few feminine wiles to get to the winner's circle. "She's so pretty. She looks so dainty, but that's just to flirt with the other horses."

Debbie Freedmann from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and friend Pat Ireland from Estelle Manor, N.J., said they would bet on Rachel - just because she's one of them. Sort of. "Because she's a filly," Freedmann said. "I might go $4 on her. Hey, I'm a big spender."

Carol Nolan, a paralegal from Indianapolis, started the Rachel Alexandra fan page on Facebook - it has 546 members - after watching the filly win the Kentucky Oaks by a commanding 20 1/4 lengths.

Nolan and her daughter, Katerina, said it's not just a girl thing. They'll bet on Rachel Alexandra and watch the race at a party at their house.

"She's just heads and shoulders above the rest of them," says Nolan, who thinks the sport of kings might have found its queen. "She walks with a regal walk and just demands the stage."

Jess Jackson, the California vintner whose Stonestreet Stables purchased Rachel Alexandra just last week for an undisclosed amount, paid the $100,000 supplemental entrance fee for the Preakness after her breakaway victory in the Kentucky Oaks. Jackson has been playing down the "Battle of the Sexes" angle.

"I think the fans deserve to see the best horses compete, regardless of sex," he told reporters this week. "This isn't about male or female; it's about the best athletes."

Patti Neumann, who runs Baltimore's CityPeek entertainment Web site, disagrees. For her, it's all about sisterhood. And, she half-jokes, having a female horse in the race gives her something to bet on other than a favorite number, best name or prettiest silks.

"I think it's great to have a chick horse," she says. "And I'd like this chick horse to win."

Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd contributed to this article.

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