BALTIMORE - Rachel Alexandra joined an impressive list when she became the first filly in 85 years to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Now her next step will be closely watched.
By showing she could beat the boys after vanquishing her own gender, Rachel Alexandra may have earned an extended break. Or her one-length victory Saturday could set the stage for a rematch with Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes on June 6.
"The Belmont will be determined by her and how she rebounds from this race," co-owner Jess Jackson said. "That said, she'll run against the boys again somewhere."
Mine That Bird's runner-up Preakness finish means there will be no Triple Crown this year, but getting him and the filly together in New York could prove to be an attractive alternative.
"She's welcome to come to the Belmont and tie into us again," said Chip Woolley Jr., Mine That Bird's trainer.
Rachel Alexandra's victory moved her alongside such famous fillies as Derby winners Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, undefeated Personal Ensign and the doomed Ruffian and Go For Wand.
"It puts her right up there with some special company," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "She's a tremendous machine."
Rachel Alexandra was led out of Pimlico's stakes barn in the pre-dawn darkness Sunday and into a van headed for the airport and a return trip to Louisville, Ky. She'll stay at Churchill Downs while Jackson and co-owner Harold McCormick decide whether to run her in the Belmont.
The filly is set to return to the track on Wednesday, and is scheduled to breeze on Memorial Day.
"She'll tell us how she's feeling," Asmussen said. "You want her to continue to be relaxed and loose. We're just going to tell her how great she is for a while and see where it leads us."
While not ruling out the Belmont, Asmussen seemed less inclined to run the filly in the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races.
"I don't feel the urgency to prove it that I did earlier," he said. "We're in a lot stronger position coming off the win."
The last filly to win the Belmont was Rags to Riches in 2007, ending a 102-year drought for females in the 1 1/2-mile race. The only other filly winners were Tanya in 1905 and Ruthless in 1867.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas had touted Rachel Alexandra as the one to beat in the Preakness and as a horse who could deliver solid television ratings for a struggling sport.
"There was damn near a Hollywood script," he said. "That really gave us something to maybe build on. How it goes into Round 3, I don't know. You almost wonder after they proved the point with that filly if they would try the Belmont. I can't see that but you never know. Now they can sit back and count their money."
Jackson relishes his role of sportsman in an industry where many owners are more interested in rushing their prized colts off to the breeding shed. He continued racing 2007 Preakness winner Curlin as a 4-year-old, and the colt was rewarded with a second consecutive Eclipse award as horse of the year.
"It's good to have champions run against champions," he said. "You raise the bar, take chances. I'm an entrepreneur. I take risks, but the rewards are worth it. When you have a horse that should be a champion, you give it a chance."
The Belmont, though, has factors that can trip up any horse -- male or female.
It's almost the only time a horse will run that far in its career, and fresh horses who skipped the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or both often are waiting in the Belmont. The New York track's sweeping turns and deep, sandy surface make it different from Churchill Downs or Pimlico.
Rachel Alexandra had trouble gripping Pimlico's dirt track on Saturday, and jockey Calvin Borel said he used the whip on her for the first time in her career.
"She's the greatest horse I've been on in my life," he said. "She struggled and still won. It's such a narrow track I had to give it to her. The more I did, the more she struggled."
On the other side of the stakes barn Sunday, a lively Mine That Bird hopped from one front hoof to the other in his stall and tossed his head. He'll be vanned back to Churchill Downs on Monday and train there for the Belmont.
"My horse run his guts out and just got beat," Woolley said, glancing over at Mine That Bird's head poking out of the stall. "If you're going to win here, you got to get a real good trip and we didn't."
Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird after Borel stayed aboard the filly, told Woolley that his horse and Flying Private, ridden by Alan Garcia, hit each other hard three times on the far turn.
"He had to check a little, just enough to break your momentum," Woolley said. "It's amazing the horse could pick it back up and get back to running as quickly as he did. It's huge when you get beat a length. If he gets a little cleaner run at her, maybe he's got a chance to beat her."
Woolley wouldn't mind a rematch in the Belmont, especially after seeing the excitement that Rachel Alexandra's late entry at a cost of $100,000 added to the Preakness.
"The show they put on and the spark it gives to racing around the country is fantastic," he said. "Great matchups in horse racing are great for the sport."