May 19, 2009

Rachel Getting... Praised

Move over Zenyatta... Rachel Alexandra has stolen your thunder as queen of the backstretch. As Zenyatta's connections scratched her from the Louisville Distaff on May 1st because of an off-track, Rachel went to the post a few races later and turned in a smashing performance that has since brought additional comparisons to Secretariat's historic 31 length Belmont victory. And it's remarkable how Rachel was able to back up that stupefying effort with her dominant pace-setting score in The Preakness Stakes, holding proven closers in Derby winner Mine That Bird and third-place finisher Musket Man in check.

To gauge Rachel's winning time of 1:55.08, consider that the last time a "speed horse" was victorious in the Preakness was 2002, when War Emblem clocked in at 1:56.36. As race times tend to change over the years based on nuances with the particular track, comparing these times to Big Brown's smashing win just last year in 1:54.80 while getting a perfect stalking trip underscores the quality of the race produced by Rachel. Especially after having to start from outside post 13 - that had never before produced a Preakness winner - and also lunging outward at the break.

Enough about the terrific race that we have come to expect from Rachel, the question is where does she go from here? Even though Mine That Bird was reeling her in at the finish line, pace still makes the race and no way would Calvin Borel let her go that fast in the mile and one-half distance of The Belmont Stakes. But a filly has already beaten the boys in the Belmont -- as recently as 2007 when Rags to Riches held off the mighty Curlin of all horses! Who's talking about Rags to Riches now, or even a month after her historic win for that matter? The fact is that another victory against these same horses doesn't really change anything, while a loss... now that's another story entirely. "Old Mo" (aka momentum) is known to change jerseys in a hurry and the last thing racing needs right now is Rachel relegated to the back pages of the magazines, papers, blogs, etc. Just for the record, with Rachel's bloodlines of Sadler's Wells and Damascus on her sire line and Mr. Prospector and Stop the Music on her dam side, she is as well bred for the distance of the Belmont as anyone else in the potential field, including Mine That Bird!

It sounds as if Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen are keenly aware of this by commenting that they are in the driver's seat for Horse of the Year honors. After the impressive victories Rachel already has under her belt, they can carefully pick and choose another 3-4 races with the ultimate goal being the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita and an expected epic battle with the aforementioned Zenyatta, who is not only undefeated in her lifetime but who at 17 hands tall can actually look Rachel in the eye. Who wins that stare down is yet to be determined.

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