BALTIMORE - When perfect storms visit horse racing, they generally are not positive events. This afternoon at Pimlico, horse racing has the very good version of the perfect storm.

The Preakness not only gets an amazing, improbable Kentucky Derby winner. The race also gets a filly with rare talent. And it will all be showcased on NBC, which is coming off the best Derby ratings in 20 years.

So, can Mine That Bird really repeat that Derby performance? Can Rachel Alexandra run out of the TV set as she did in the Kentucky Oaks? Can any of the other 11 horses in the starting gate get to the wire first?

Jockey Calvin Borel had his choice of the Derby or Oaks winner. And chose the Oaks winner. So Mike Smith rides Mine That Bird.

Even the plots have subplots. Really, who takes off the Derby winner to ride another horse in the Preakness? Before this, the answer was nobody.

There are some who wonder if it is a good idea to run the filly against the colts and the gelding that won the Derby. The Eight Belles breakdown is still too fresh. Sadly, that could have happened to any horse. That it was a filly made it a bigger story because people want to make comparisons to other sports.

Fillies routinely run and win against colts in Europe. In fact, the best horse in Europe last year was a 3-year-old filly; Zarkava beat all the boys in the Arc de Triomphe.

Wayne Lukas has always been one of the most aggressive trainers in the sport. He has never been shy about running fillies against colts.

"Believe me, if I had Rachel Alexandra, she'd have been in the Derby," Lukas said. "Are you kidding me? That would have been a no-brainer. I'd have led her over there and said, 'Boys, just get in the gate, you're in deep crap.' "

The former owner did not believe in running fillies against colts. That is not a problem for Jess Jackson, the risk-taking owner who bought Rachel Alexandra last week. He wants to run his best horses in the best races against all the other good horses.

How Rachel Alexandra will do is about as fascinating as wondering whether Mine That Bird can do it again. Even horses with consistent form rarely make incredible rallies in consecutive races. Obviously, Mine That Bird was not terribly consistent before the Derby.

By the way, if you want to buy a 2-year-old half-brother to the Derby winner, show up next week at Timonium, the little track north of Baltimore. Hip 107 was purchased for $72,000 last fall. The owner thought the time was right to take a profit.

The time was right to bet on Mine That Bird on May 2. This might not be the time.

If it's not Rachel Alexandra or Mine That Bird in the winner's circle, you could find a worse story than Papa Clem. It was 1986 when 2-1 Derby favorite Snow Chief finished 11th. And came back to win the Preakness.

Snow Chief was trained by Mel Stute. His son, Gary, will send out Papa Clem in this Preakness. Papa Clem finished fourth in the Derby.

"To win this race 23 years after my father won it would be pretty special," Stute said. "I don't know how many years I've got left with him and I'd like to do something [special] while he's alive rather than later . . . Pimlico is definitely a special place for the Stute family."

Mel will be at Pimlico today to watch his son's horse.

"Preakness Day was the happiest day of my life," Gary Stute said. "Snow Chief ran so badly in the Kentucky Derby and we could never figure out why. The Preakness provided a little bit of redemption. It was a special day."

So, like every other Triple Crown race, this Preakness has people with stories behind the horses. It just happens to have something unique.

"When the husbands are watching the race at home, the wives will be watching, too," Stute said. "It's going to be great for racing." *