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By Thomas Chambers
Few are aware of this superstar.
All the cliffhanging hype America manufactures every day, seemingly by rote, or in its sleep. An industry, this "next big thing" always seems to be. People being paid megabucks to "spot trends."
Yet this one, doing only what she loves, showed more in one minute, and forty-eight point two-one seconds than you'll ever see from . . . I've got to stop bashing the gridders and the cagers and the baseballers.
She's Rachel Alexandra. Rachel Alexandra. Hope upon hope you'll be able to see her next year. Whether, or not, you saw her this year.
Not only is she the Horse of the Year, she's the athlete of the year. Heart of the year. Guts of the year. Throw out her gender. She's a horse, right? But you can't forget she's a filly. But she's better than any horse she's raced, colt or filly. But she's a filly. We two-leggeds live the preconceived gender notion. She just runs.
In turning back horse after horse in the 56th running of The Woodward last Saturday at Saratoga, Rachel Alexandra catapulted herself to the upper stratosphere of Thoroughbred history. She is the first filly to win this race. Need perspective? Feast upon these others who have won this race.
I tried to beat her, lord knows. Just like Asiatic Boy, It's a Bird, Past the Point, Cool Coal Man, Da'Tara. And place horse Macho Again, the veteran, and Bullsbay, a speedster in great form. Chumps, I thought going in. But they all took their shots. Good shots. Great shots. (scroll to Rachel Alexandra featured replays). They all gave more than I thought in my heart they really had. I lost too.
Thanks to my favorite restaurant manager, Andy, who appreciates a good wager and a great race, in whichever order, we turned from a meaningless NCAA grid tilt to TVG, specialty satellite. This moment in history reduced to a TV niche.
She put up a fuss, trying to get out of the hold of her stable hand. Calvin Borel gave her the I-understand-baby deference as he was half jumped and was half tossed off Rachel just a few minutes before post. As he popped right back up, you got the feeling she was thinking "let's just run the damn thing!"
Da'Tara pressed hard early in just the first long yards, but by the time they ran the first quarter in a very hot 22.85, Rachel was ahead. Early on, and I mean early, it was the kind of pace scenario where a horse like this gets beat. Long, tiring campaign, by a champion. Seven top-level races in six months. Burns up and a closer closes - recipe for upset. Special horse or not, this is not what trainer Steve Asmussen or owner Jess Jackson wanted. But Rachel is special. No?
They went 46-and-two for the second quarter. In great form, race caller Tom Durkin implied that that was a breather. Uh, okay.
Then, Past the Point took his shot, with Asiatic Boy making his move. Still, Rachel led, most part of a length. It was clear by then that Borel knew - and hoped - he had the class horse, keeping Rachel Alexandra in the lead as a way of keeping her in the clear. Imagine that! It was a recipe for a loss, except for this horse. But then you looked, and Borel and Rachel were saving a bunch of ground.
The dead rail has sometimes contributed to Saratoga's rep as "the graveyard of favorites," but Borel was one, two, two-and-a-half slots out from the rail. It was a bee-yoo-ti-full ride.
Coming into the stretch, five - five of them - mounted their bids. Ready to pounce on a nanosecond of fatigue or weakness by the filly. Her patented stamina, combined with what seems a forward speed slide move, sprinter's turn of foot, gave her a length or two approaching the eighth pole. She would use every bit of it. Bullsbay looked like he flattened out. But did he really? Macho Again turned on an out-of-the-clouds kick that lent to his own respect and served to fortify the Rachel Alexandra legend as she held him off by a head.
She did it! She won! She beat 'em! I believe only Andy and I saw it, not to mention appreciate it. No one else in the joint seemed to care. We two knew what we were seeing.
Durkin called it: "She is Ra-Chel Al-Exan-Dra the GREAT!"
She beat the older boys. The older boys.
She beat the 3-year-old fillies in the Kentucky Oaks. She beat the 3-year-old boys in the Preakness. She beat them again in the Haskell Invitational. She beat the older boys in the Woodward.
When you have a filly who is great or aspires to greatness, the question is always, can she beat the boys? Can she win? And win? Rachel Alexandra has done everything, and more, that you can possibly, possibly ask a 3-year-old filly to do.That you probably shouldn't ask her to do. In any decade. Beat the boys? Sure, as a four-year-old. She did it this year. At 3.
In horse racing, you have what is called a key race. A key race is when the top two or three finishers in a climb-up-the-ladder race go on to win their next race, or two, or go on to significant improvement. Nearly all of Rachel's races have been key races. "Flattered" in the lingo by what her opponents have done. Not to mention Rachel Alexandra. I won money on some of these key horses.
Steve Haskin, Bloodhorse.com: "All year, Rachel has been flattered by horses she has trounced. Gabby's Golden Gal was beaten 29 1/4 lengths by Rachel in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and came back to win the grade I Acorn Stakes in 1:34 3/5. Flashing was beaten 31 1/2 lengths by Rachel in the Mother Goose (gr. I) and came back to win the grade I Test Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths. Summer Bird was beaten 6 lengths by Rachel in the Haskell and came back to win the Travers Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths. Take the Points was beaten 32 3/4 lengths by Rachel in the Preakness and came back to win the grade I Secretariat Stakes. Just Jenda was beaten 11 3/4 lengths by Rachel in the Fantasy Stakes and came back to win the Monmouth Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths. Even Sara Louise, who was beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Rachel in last year's Golden Rod (gr. II), won the Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga in 1:09 3/5 in her 3-year-old debut."
The supremely bittersweet aspect of this story is that we have a 5-year-old mare in Zenyatta who is undefeated. Un-dee-fee-ted. But her connections choose to keep her in California on the synthetic, where she thrives. Shooting for the Breeders Cup. Although she has done well on the dirt. A race? Uh, no.
Jess Jackson won't go to Santa Anita's synthetic. Don't blame him. Rachel deserves to call a few shots.
Even though it might approach Seabiscuit-War Admiral, if America were paying attention. It should not and will not be a match race. I think there would be enough challengers if the purse were big enough.
Her connections say Rachel is done for the year and they'll ready her for a campaign at four-years-old. So how's that for some long-range dreams for a horse fan?
I won't get into a debate about whether she's the greatest filly of all time. You have your Ruffian, and Go For Wand, Silverbulletday (Hall of Famer just this year), or Rags to Riches, who won the Belmont! I don't go back too far, and don't pretend to.
Greatest horse of this decade?
Ghostzapper and Smarty Jones were close, before the breeding greed that took them off the track. Afleet Alex was inspiring. Medaglia d'Oro is Rachel's sire. I always liked him. Barbaro was captivating, but he didn't run enough. Big Brown was a freak, with bad feet. Saint Liam and Roses in May. Mineshaft. Dug them. Filly Azeri, tried as hard as she could and had a great filly career, but not beating the boys shouldn't dim her allure. Lava Man, the greatest claimer of all time.
Rachel Alexandra has done it. She has put herself at the top. By running. No simpler nor more honest way.
Would have been great to see.
I'll never try to beat her again.
Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you Track Notes every Friday. He welcomes your comments.More from Beachwood Sports »