Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Decade to Remember: A Champion's Heart

As the field turn for home at grand old Saratoga the grandstand let out a deafening roar that shook the grounds of the entire track. Tears streamed down the faces of hardened fans and casual fans alike. They all yelled to the heavens their encouragement, as if it were they who were out running on the track. Who would've believed that on horse could effect such a mass of people in such a deep and moving way.

After her dominating Haskell win, super filly, Rachel Alexandra had been pointed towards a variety of historical races, all taking place at Saratoga, The Graveyard of Champions. One, the Travers Stakes, would feature a rematch with Belmont winner and Haskell runner-up, Summer Bird. She would also face Quality Road, who had set two track records in his last two starts. It would be her first time going 10 furlongs, and represented a chance to once again make some history. The next possibility would be the Personal Ensign Stakes, another chance to go 10 furlongs, while facing older females for the first time.

The final possibility would be the Woodward Stakes. Here she would face older males, in a race no filly, let alone a three year old filly, had ever won before. Many of the males already possible for this race were not the most consistent, but all had the ability to be extremely dangerous when giving their best effort. If Rachel Alexandra's connections chose this path the would be taking on one of the hardest tasks to ask of a three year old filly. To win against her male elders, while routing.

Days passed, and the public waited, wondering, and then it came. Jess Jackson announced his next target for his superstar. It would be the Woodward Stakes. Blog hosts and turf writers went off on the subject of a three year old filly taking on her elders. Many believed that due to the inconsistency of the division that this was the year to try and make it happen, while others believed even if the division was inconsistent, the task may be too tall for the filly who was not used to running against such battle hardened competitors.

The tension slowly built, as the nation waited in anticipation, asking themselves "Could Rachel Alexandra be that good? Could she be good enough to become the first filly to ever win the Woodward Stakes?" The wonderment kept building until the September the fifth arrived, and all speculation had finally hit it's peak. The field that lined up against Rachel Alexandra included three grade one winners, Da'Tara, Bulls Bay, and Macho Again. Past the Point, last year's runner up in the Woodward and Da'Tara, last year's Belmont winner, were both entered for the sole purpose of pressing the champion filly to her limits during the early stages of the race, so that she would be softened up for the stalkers and closers like Bulls Bay, Macho Again, Asiatic Boy, and It's A Bird.

When the gates flew open and the field sent on their way, Calvin Borel sent Rachel right to the front, but it would not be long before the public's worries over Past the Point and Da'Tara would come to life. Both rabbits immediately rushed up to challenge the filly, pushing her through a suicidal opening quarter in 22.85. With both Da'Tara and Past the Point breathing fire, just behind her, Rachel Alexandra would continue to run at a blister pace that seemed to spell doom for her.

After three quarters in 1.10.54 both Da'Tara and Past the Point were cooked and began to retreat to the tail of the field. Rachel Alexandra however was still there, still in front, and as the field turned for home the crowd of 31,000 erupted with such a roar it could challenge "the wall of noise" during the Kentucky Derby. One mile run in 1.35.48, Rachel was still in front. She had already repelled the bid of the Whitney winner Bulls Bay, and now was faced with Macho Again, the Stephen Foster winner, who was running the race of his life! Less than a furlong to go, Borel asking his filly for every ounce of courage she possessed, and with a final surge, she responded.

In a final time of 1.48.29, Rachel Alexandra had become the first filly in 56 runnings to win the Woodward Stakes! During her 3yr old season, Rachel Alexandra had never once been looked in the eye coming down the stretch. She had only shown her brilliance and undeniable ability to simply run away from her opponents. This day, though, she was collared, and this day she show why she was a true champion. In a race that she had every right to lose, she kept fighting, she simply refused to lose.

1 comment:

  1. I have never seen emotion like that at a racetrack before, and that includes many Kentucky Derby infields. All day long people were waiting for the Woodward...and Rachel. It was like a pot slowly starting to reach the boiling point. When she finally stepped on the track, the crowd went bonkers. They then turned it up several notches for the race. Pure bedlam. Only the Heart of a Champion carried her through that race where she was challenged every step. Nice recap Dani. I will never, ever forget it.