It was supposed to be the Queen's crowning moment, her return to the spotlight. On August 29 Rachel Alexandra, reigning Horse of the Year, was all set to return to glory as she turned back Life At Ten and entered the Saratoga stretch, with a four length lead, in the Personal Ensign.
Her fans cheered wildly in the stands as their champion began to cruise down the stretch, to what looked like a dominant victory. However, as the wire drew near, the effects of an intense speed duel began to take effect and it was apparent the heroine of so many hearts was beginning to feel leg weary.
Persistently, the longshot of the field was running a huge race, seemingly being lifted along by the ghost of the unbeaten distaffer, Personal Ensign. The chestnut mare did not seem to get the memo that this was Rachel Alexandra's coming out party, and in just the final heart-wrenching strides, Persistently gunned down the champion, stunning the racing fans into an eerie silence.
Now the bashing can begin again, but really what is there to bash? Rachel Alexandra did not embarrass herself in the least. Many will point to her slow final quarter to prove their point that she is simply not a 10 furlong horse and may be best at shorter distances. What these detractors seem to forget is that the top two finishers in the Travers Stakes, both who were never on the lead until the stretch call of the race, were hard pressed to finish their final quarter much faster.
Saratoga seems to be a deep and tiring track, especially in races that are 9 furlongs and over. Final furlongs and quarter miles look pedestrian. Don't believe me? Just look at last year. The Travers, albeit over mud, had a final quarter of 26.22 and Careless Jewel's Alabama had a final quarter of 25.86. Bullsbay, the Whitney winner, ran a final furlong in 13 seconds flat? A little fact for you, none of these horses led wire to wire. Careless Jewel was closest to the pace out of the three.
Rachel Alexandra was rushed to the lead and engaged in a speed duel with Life At Ten. The fractions may not have looked blistering, but over the Saratoga main track and going 10 furlongs, set before Rachel a daunting task of getting to the wire first.
Another plus to the race was that Rachel Alexandra pummeled the horse that was supposed to give her the stiffest challenge. Life At Ten dropped her anchor turning for home and finished 10 lengths behind Rachel Alexandra. Once again Rachel Alexandra has proven that it is a suicide mission, for any horse that is in the race to win it, to try and stay with her early.
The point is, Rachel fans, the Personal Ensign was a better effort than it appears at first glance. Did we all expect a win, especially as our heroine entered the stretch? Yes, we did, and we would've had it if not for a spectacular ride by Mr. Garcia. I also hope the connections of Rachel Alexandra do not give up. The race has given her the bottom she will need later this year.
It is my hope that we will see Rachel Alexandra, not in the Beldame, but in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The race is without a true speed horse since it has become apparent that Quality Road will not join the fray, meaning Rachel will have the lead all to herself over a track where she owns a stakes record.
All in all was this the outcome we were expecting? No. But hopefully it is a step in the right direction.