When I first saw Curlin, my number one favorite horse, on a replay, romping in home to win the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, I knew he would end up being on of the greats. That same intuition was not there with Rachel Alexandra. I saw her wins on replays as well, but even as I watched her continuously canter home, easily the best, I only thought of her as a "very good" filly.
I contributed her wins to a very weak three year old filly division, even though her times were beating those of her male peers. I watched the Martha Washington, won in a stakes record, and the Fair Grounds Oaks, where she was geared down, and even the Fantasy another romp.
I expected her to win the Kentucky Oaks, especially when I saw the field that stood against her. I expected a big win, one similar to her last three starts, but what I did not expect was to see was the complete and utter domination she displayed, winning the race by over 20 lengths. She won it without urging, stealing away with it as soon as she hit the far turn. That day, she also stole my heart.
I watched as she was acquired by Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick shortly after her rousing victory in the Oaks. I stood firmly behind her when they entered her in the Preakness and yelled at the top of my lounges as she held off the furious rally by Mine That Bird to become the first filly to ever take the Oaks and Preakness. I watched her 19 length tune up victory in the Mother Goose, a race that nearly became a walkover.
Her last two races in 2009 were my favorites, her Haskell Invitational and the Woodward Stakes. The former took my breath away. She had been on the pace, three wide, the entire trip, sitting just off of scorching splits, but all that didn't matter. With only a few yards left on the far turn she put a field that included that year's Belmont winner away like they were claimers. She strided away to yet again another huge victory, winning by over six lengths.
The Woodward Stakes, her last race of the year made my heart twist and wrench inside my chest from the very moment the gates broke open. I watched her shoot to the lead and set a blistering first quarter, following it up with a scorching half and three quarters. Through all this she dueled with last year's Belmont winner Da Tara, and when he threw in the towel she dueled with Past the Point.
As she turned for home my heart was in my throat. I watched as she repelled a bid by the Whitney winner Bullsbay only to dig down deeper as she braced for one last run by Macho Again. I screamed for her and as she crossed the wire, the victor yet again I cried. How could I not, she had just laid her heart out on the track for us, and perhaps never took it back.
Her first loss this year was tough to swallow. She was coming off an extremely long layoff and had been rushed into the race in an attempt to have her ready for the Apple Blossom, so the loss was understandable. In the La Troienne, however, she had me crying again, but for a whole different reason. I fear the horse that stole my heart in 2009 is not the same horse that is racing in 2010. I desperately hope I am wrong, because my heart broke when I saw her lose. I miss her, I miss Rachel.