BALTIMORE - New shooters are always an intriguing angle in the Preakness Stakes, those horses who skip the Kentucky Derby to aim for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
The sensational filly Rachel Alexandra, the 8-5 early favorite, is the most prominent newcomer in Saturday's race at Pimlico. After winning the Kentucky Oaks by a stunning 20 ¼ lengths, she will take on the boys for the first time.
Until the decision was made last week to run Rachel Alexandra, Big Drama loomed as the most promising new shooter. The colt trained by David Fawkes has a nose for the winner's circle.
After finishing third in his debut last July at Calder in Florida, Big Drama reeled off five straight wins, including the $750,000 Delta Jackpot on Dec. 5 in Louisiana.
He missed most of the 3-year-old prep races this spring with a bone bruise, returning for the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 28. True to form, Big Drama again finished first - only to be disqualified to second for a bumping incident in the stretch.
Big Drama had more than enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby but owner Harold Queen and Fawkes decided to wait.
"We just kind of felt it wasn't the right thing to do," Fawkes said.
After watching Mine That Bird win the Derby at 50-1 odds, Fawkes was ready to turn Big Drama into a Preakness contender.
"When they crossed the wire, I was already on the phone to Mr. Queen and said, 'I think we need to go to the Preakness,"' Fawkes said.
Big Drama is 10-1 on the morning line with John Velazquez aboard for the first time, replacing Eibar Coa, who retained the mount on third-place Derby finisher Musket Man.
Like Rachel Alexandra, Big Drama usually races on the lead or very close to the pace. Fawkes will remove his blinkers for the Preakness, a tactic that often helps horses relax and settle during the early stages of a race.
Other new shooters in the Preakness are Luv Gov, Take the Points, Terrain and Tone It Down.
The last two newcomers to win the Preakness were Bernardini in 2006, a race remembered because of Barbaro's injury, and Red Bullet in 2000.
RACHEL WALKS: Rachel Alexandra had a very quiet day Thursday, walking under the barn enclosure the morning after she was shipped to Pimlico from Kentucky.
"The main thing is just keeping her happy," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "We'll take her over to the paddock and that will be her exercise today. She'll gallop tomorrow."
Paddock schooling is standard procedure, with an added twist for the Preakness, when the horses are saddled on the turf course in front of the grandstand.
"It's just for her to relax and be comfortable where she's at," Blasi said. "It's something we always do with our horses. She's shipped before and run. We don't want her to be nervous or unaware of where she is."
REMEMBERING SEABISCUIT: A Seabiscuit 44-cent stamped envelope was unveiled Thursday at the annual Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico. The stamp features Seabiscuit in his greatest triumph, the match race with Triple Crown winner War Admiral at Pimlico in 1938.
Several media awards were handed out at the Alibi Breakfast, a race week tradition. Rob Carr of The Associated Press received the Preakness photography award, and Tom Pedulla of USA Today was honored for writing the best race story of 2008.
Jeannine Edwards of ESPN and Bob Fortus of the New Orleans Times-Picayune received Old Hilltop awards for covering thoroughbred racing with excellence and distinction.
LOOKING WET: The forecast for Preakness Day calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 80 degrees.
Another moist track would greatly help Mine That Bird, the 50-1 Kentucky Derby winner who thrived in the slop at Churchill Downs.
"We could live with that," trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. said. "It either will be or it won't be. There is not much you can do about Mother Nature."