When Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Chip Woolley is asked about the challenge from filly Rachel Alexandra, who has been installed as the 8-5 pre-race favorite for Saturday's 134th Preakness, he cocks his head in a questioning pose.
"I don't see what the big deal is," said Woolley, whose Mine That Bird won the Derby as a 50-1 shot. "I'm not down on the filly. She's a great horse. But she's still got to run. I look at her as just another horse."
He's about the only one.
When Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks on May 1 by 20 1/4 lengths, she entered the consciousness of the racing public. When she was sold to Jess Jackson a few days later and he inquired about entering her in the Preakness, she caught the imagination of the general public.
When Mine That Bird's owners attempted to collude with other owners to block her entry to the race and the Derby winner's jockey, Calvin Borel, made the historic decision to leave him for the beautiful filly, a soap opera scenario was in full bloom in the land of black-eyed Susans - with Rachel Alexandra playing the leading lady..
Of course, to maintain the buzz, the horse will have to perform well over Pimlico Race Course's 1 3/16 -mile distance. Borel, who will be replaced on Mine That Bird by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, said he has no worries about that.
"I think all the other [12 horses] are going to have to run the race of their lives or me fall off or something stupid happen," said Borel, who will break from the outside, No. 13 gate. "I think I just have to point her in the right direction and she'll get me there."
No filly has won the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924. When Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes, she was the first to do so in 102 years. Last year, when the ill-fated Eight Belles showed her strength and determination in finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, getting closer to undefeated winner Big Brown than any male horse had to that point, she was trying to become the first winning filly in the race since Winning Colors in 1988.
Now, those who know about the quality of fillies say Rachel Alexandra is better than both of them and perhaps better than any since the great Ruffian, the Eclipse Award winner at ages 2 and 3 who died of injuries suffered in a match race against 1975 Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.
Former jockey and current NBC reporter Donna Brothers was sitting on the back of a pickup truck as the filly was about to arrive at the stakes barn this week. She was watching the paparazzi assemble, the photographers, the television cameras and reporters, and the racing fans. Even a few trainers were in the mix when she heard someone ask about Rachel Alexandra's quality.
"She's a man among boys," Brothers said.
And then she was asked how that can be said when she has never run with the boys. How can blowing away all her female competition translate to being a better racehorse than the males in this race?
"It's not really the big race she ran in the Oaks; it's what she was doing to get to that point."
While fillies in Europe and Asia often race against their male counterparts and also win in major competitions, such is not the case in the United States, where they are usually seen as being smaller, slower and capable of being intimidated by their larger, faster and more combative male foes.
Rachel Alexandra, however, is not one of those fillies. Trainer Bob Baffert, who said he got goose bumps watching her win the Oaks, was impressed enough a year ago that he tried to buy her.
"She's fast," said Baffert, whose Pioneerof the Nile is the second favorite at 5-1. "She's an incredible athlete with a beautiful fluid stride and a great turn of foot. I was looking forward to the Preakness until she showed up."
D. Wayne Lukas, who has 50-1 long shots Flying Private and Luv Guv in Saturday's field, said if he had been training for Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum and his brother Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum, Jackson would not own the impressive filly.
"I'd have her, and I'd have run her in the Derby," said Lukas, whose first Triple Crown victory came with Winning Colors in 1988. "It's her cruising speed, her great stride, her size. She's tall and rangy. She's not some little violet prancing around."
Jackson, who bought the filly for an undisclosed price, said what he is most interested in Saturday is seeing the horses compete.
"The racing public deserves to see the best horses race against one another," Jackson said during a conference call. "I think she can give the industry a lift. I hope so. She's perfect, beautiful and athletic. If you take a look at the lady, if you saw her run in the Oaks, they had to have the outriders pull her in. She has stamina and distance and good recovery. "Our judgment is that she can compete in this race and the boys will have their hands full."