Friday, April 30, 2010

Missing Rachel

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.


  1. I fell for her in 2008 as a juvenile, and then completely last year. I still love her. This is not the real Rachel...yet. Will we ever see the real Rach again??? I hope so.

  2. I really expected Rachel to run away from Unrivaled Belle when the latter came up to challenge, and was shocked she couldn't. In fact, this race set up exactly like the New Orleans Ladies, in that the challenger pounced on Rachel rounding the turn.

    Steve Asmussen told ESPN, "She's just a bigger, heavier mare now and at the moment not as explosive as she was last summer." I've read when horses grow and fill out from one year to the next, they sometimes have trouble adjusting to their new, bigger frames. Perhaps that phenomenon is at work here.

    Also, Rachel is carrying more weight this year than last. Maybe that is having an effect, too.

  3. Cathy,

    I don't think it's the weight, the RA of last year at her best would've just manhandled Zardana and Unrivaled Belle even with weight. I've had time to think and I think shes just not getting back into shape as quickly as we all thought she would. She was out five months before her first work. Her first six two or three works were slower, not very impressive. Her fast works were more eratic.

    When she got to CD, she looked more like the RA we all knew, but she still probably wasn't all there yet. She is bigger and heavier, which could play a part, but I think it's still her needing one more race.

    If I remember correctly, Affirmed a TC hero lost five in a row, including his first two starts as an older male before winning the rest of the season. Some horses need some time to get back, just look at Super Saver. He lost his first two races narrowly then ran off in the Derby. I'm beginning to think RA will be back, we just need to be patient. Remember she didn't hit her best form until her fourth race last year.