September 9, 2009

Rachel Alexandra is "Great" in Historic Woodward

It's hard to believe that a savvy racing "railbird" could be more impressed by a diminishing head victory than a 20 length romp, but Rachel's triumph in Saturday's Grade I Woodward Stakes was the most thrilling finish I have ever witnessed. I have seen some doozies in my day, most notably the Pine Bluff - Lil E. Tee and Azeri - Take Charge Lady duels down "Dogwood Lane" at Oaklawn Park. But this one was different in that even though I was there, the last 40 yards prior to the finish line was blinded from my vantage point behind the winner's circle area, where I had staked out a second row spot to greet the decorated champion. Thus, track announcer Tom Durkin was my eyes and ears until I saw Rachel's head hit the wire just before the grey blob of Macho Again. And what a classic call by Durkin.

We (my fellow railbird friends) were alarmed from the get-go after Durkin began his race-call, "Rachel Alexandra will duel with Da'Tara... making her work today through a punishing quarter mile." Then the stage was set at the top of the stretch as Durkin pronounced, "A dramatic stretch drive awaits." After Rachel turned away both Da' Tara and Past the Point (last year's Woodward runner-up to Curlin after setting the pace) the toughest challenges were yet to come. First, Whitney Handicap winner Bullsbay couldn't quite get to the winner's flank straightening for home with his best effort, but Robby Albarado on stone-cold closer Macho Again split horses perfectly on the turn to save ground while keeping all his momentum moving forward. He proved to push Rachel to her limits, while Calvin repeatedly wailed on her with the crop (no wonder Rachel tossed him in the post parade while warming up!), knowing he would be made to pay for his tactical error if she were nailed on the line. But alas, Rachel was too much woman for Macho Again and actually never let him pass - even in the gallop out. To which Tom Durkin jubilantly exclaimed, "Rachel won... she is indeed Rachel Alexandra the Great!"

To think that Macho's momentum wouldn't have buoyed him past the tiring filly at the wire is as improbable as Rachel holding off these multiple challenges from proven older horses after setting torrid opening fractions. There's a reason that no filly had ever won this particular race since it's inception in 1954 and fillies beating older male horses anywhere is as common as Halley's comet. But the unthinkable has been achieved time and time again with Rachel in 2009... from multiple 20 length victories to Calvin smiling and pointing to cameras whilst cantering to the finish line to charging right out of the gates and making the boys catch her. The only thing is that none ever did, which is why she will undoubtedly be voted champion three year-old filly as well as overall Horse of the Year.

There is an emerging music group called Shinedown that has a current hit, Second Chance, where the lyrics state, "I just saw Halley's comet, she waved - Said why you always running in place?" You get the feeling Rachel IS such a rare treasure and is taunting the competition during her races with "Why you always running in place?" Rachel Alexandra has shown the world that running like a girl is not a bad thing after all.

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