Friday, October 30, 2009

Ruffian vs Rachel

Before this year Ruffian, the brilliant champion three year old filly, was the non disputed number on American filly in history. Ruffian's legacy ranges from her magnificent victory to her tragic demise on the track. Despite only racing in 10 lifetime starts she is considered better than even the great Shuvee, who beat males in route races numerous of times and is probably the most accomplished mare in the history of American racing.

Before this year the mere thought that another filly that could come along and become more brilliant and overtake her number one spot in history was absurd. How could any other filly or mare be so dominant, so brilliant and so great that they could possibly be considered better than Ruffian? The tales of her overwhelming wins, record setting races, and blinding speed have lasted more than thirty years after her tragic death. To any racing fan who watched this amazon of a filly race, whether it live or on a YouTube race thirty years later, it was impossible to even make the suggestion that another could be as great, or even greater. In 2009, the Year of the Filly, that all changed.

Rachel Alexandra would come into her three year old year with a record setting win in the Martha Washington stakes at Oaklawn Park, making her foes look like allowance horses instead of the stakes winners they actually were. Her moment that crowned her as a truly great filly came when she won the Grade one Kentucky Oaks by over 20 lengths, coming within .33 seconds of the stakes record. She further proved herself by facing the Derby winner in the Preakness Stakes and winning after setting a torrid pace. This year she has faced males a total of three times, all in Grade ones, all wins.

No other horse in modern times has done what Rachel Alexandra has accomplished at three years old. She is only the second filly to win the Haskell Invitational, the FIRST to win the Woodward, and the FIRST horse EVER to win the Preakness from post thirteen. She demonstrates courage, class, and brilliance in all her races, beating fillies by double digit margins, and setting or coming within a breath of stakes or track records. She is riding a nine race winning streak and is set to return next year to prove herself yet again as a four year old.

Rachel's lists of accomplishments, just this year tops anything done by any filly or mare within the last thirty years, maybe more. Some have now crowned her the best American filly of all time because of her Herculean achievements. I am one of those that believe she has earned the right to become the new standard by which all fillies and mares are measured by, but some, the protectors of history refuse to acknowledge her greatness and find the smallest things to fault her for.

Those who try and protect the past will make the argument that distance limitations should eliminate Rachel's bid for the top spot since, she has never been over nine furlongs, and Ruffian had no trouble with longer distances. For one if anyone says that Rachel has not been over the nine furlong mark, they either forgot the Preakness or are flat out lying. The Preakness is 9.5 furlongs and considered one of the Classics of America. Also take note that all Ruffian's races were run against fillies, which she had already humiliated time after time in past starts. Something tells me that if Rachel beat her own sex at the same distance Ruffian did the protectors would come back and say she was ducking males at 10 furlongs and would need to win against them. How is that fair that Rachel has to beat males, yet Ruffian is considered better just by beating fillies?

I have even heard people compare the soundness and durability of Ruffian and Rachel, saying that Ruffian was better in that area as well. The only thing wrong with that is the fact that Ruffian was injured as a two year old, then broke down in her 11th start as a three year old and was euthanized. Rachel has NEVER been injured in thirteen career starts, even when running against and beating her male counter parts.

I have also heard that the records set by Ruffian put her way ahead of "Alexandra the Great" as Rachel has been called. Ruffian broke track and stakes records in all of her ten starts, and won by margins so wide you would think her competition was running in a different race. Her times were off the charts as well, and what made her even more impressive was she was always under a hold, while leading at every pole.

Rachel may not always lead the race, but she is always in the thick of things either on the pace or just off. Against her own sex she has won by as much as twenty lengths, her largest win against males was six lengths. In every race in her winning streak she has set some sort of record or made history. Just this year she has set two stakes records and was within, at least, one second of several other track and stakes records. Has she gone 10 furlongs, no, but my question to Ruffian protectors is did Ruffian ever beat male?

To be fair Ruffian did face ONE male, the Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, in a match race. It is true she broke down, but the fact remains that she still never won against males. Rachel has, and was even set against males before Ruffian was even planning on it. While Ruffian bypassed all Triple Crown races Rachel raced against males in the Preakness in May. The list of those who have fallen to her is an impressive list as well, seeing as she has beaten the winner of the Derby, two Belmont winners, a Santa Anita Derby winner, and Arkansas Derby winner, and one of those Belmont winners has won the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Tell me those who are the protectors of history, who did Ruffian beat?

In this battle of history, the facts have painted a clear picture of the winner. Ruffian was brilliant, enough so that she on ten starts alone remained the golden standard for all fillies and mares for over thirty years. Now it is time to step down to one that went on to do even greater things and has the potential to keep doing more. Number two is not a slight or does it diminish anything the great Ruffian stood for, but nobody can stay number one, because sooner or later someone will come who is better. In this case Rachel is better. Rachel is number one.


  1. Very, very murky waters trying to compare two stars of different eras. They are/were both awesome champions. Personally, I always compared great fillies to Ruffian in the past, now I will use Rachel as the measuring stick.

    BTW, Shuvee was excellent, but I do not think she was better than a filly in her own crop...Gallant Bloom.

  2. Sorry that I left out Gallant Bloom, I should've remembered. I to will use Rachel as a measuring stick. As I said I'm not trying to slight the great filly or diminish what she has done, but sooner or later somebody always comes along who is better. Rachel has earned it.