Wednesday, September 02, 2009
One For the History Books
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 2, 2009--At this juncture of the meet, especially when the calendar couldn’t be set any later, the leaves begin turning here, the horse vans lumber out one at a time and talk turns to Belmont in fall.
But not this time, not this year, not in the Year of Rachel Alexandra, who is bigger in life than Smarty Jones was in this decade, bigger than two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, bigger in life than even Barbaro was in death.
No, Rachel Alexandra became big news when she won on an extraordinarily successful Kentucky Oaks day program by an extraordinary margin, then became bigger news when she was bought for an undisclosed high seven figures by the outspoken owner of the 2007-8 Horse of the Year.
Then came the national headlines when, with one more day of rest than the gelded Derby winner, won the Triple Crown’s second jewel for post 13 despite a bit of a tangled break before forcing the pace and slipping and sliding her way home first on the Pimlico surface.
Then she became a margin horse, winning the Mother Goose by 19-¼ lengths, just like she spread-eagled them in the Oaks, and she did it in fast time, too.
Not long after she shipped to Monmouth Park and on an awful day--not Breeders’ Cup awful, but bad enough--spanked the Belmont and Tom Fool winners.
Now, according to NYRA staffer Jenny Kellner, she will try to emulate Lady Primrose, the last three-year-old filly to beat older males in a Grade 1 race in New York. For those readers who might have forgotten, that victory came in the 1887 Manhattan.
And that’s what makes Saturday’s race such a big deal.
As the great Charles Hatton might have written, when recalling great horses that have won a particular event: “The winners of the Woodward reads like a roll of drums.”
Consider: Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Mineshaft, Skip Away, Cigar (twice), Holy Bull, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid (walked over), Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Forego (four times).
Actually, can’t believe Forego won four straight. In it’s way, a tougher accomplishment than Kelso’s five Gold Cups because of the JCGC’s uncommon distance and lesser competition. Of the above, only Holy Bull won the Woodward at three. And all, at one point or another, were Horses of the Year.
And that, too, is what makes this Woodward such a big deal.
Are there the likes of the above lined up against Rachel Alexandra on Saturday? No. But Asiatic Boy is 7-for-17 lifetime, earnings of over $3.2 million. Bullsbay is a multiple stakes winner and in career form, off a stunning Whitney win. Cool Coal Man won a restricted stakes under 123 pounds over the track by 12-3/4s on August 10; his mate is the 2008 Belmont winner.
It’s a Bird is a multiple graded stakes winner. Jim Dandy winner Macho Again completed the Whitney exacta this year and Past the Point was second in this race last year. All carry 126 pounds, of course, the filly 118, given the age and sex allowance at nine furlongs.
The filly will start from post 3 in a field of eight, with seven betting interests, and was installed the 1-2 early line favorite. “It’s tough competition, Saturday,” said Calvin Borel who’s won all eight of his rides on her.
“We’re stepping up to the plate and we just have to put them in the gate to see what happens. This has to be the toughest race for her, stepping up to older horses.”
“She was entered off her talent, not her age,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi. “She’s beaten those (three-year-old males) before. She’s run against them twice. This was kind of a new frontier. The timing was good into this race and she’s come into it very well.”
At the post draw, Borel was interviewed by track announcer Tom Durkin, who wondered what Borel’s strategy would be. From post three, does he establish early position with her? When does he know when to step on the gas and when to stop with her?
“I get along with her because I let her to her thing,” Borel answered. “I talk to her and she listens on command.”
“That’s not like any woman I’ve ever known,” said Durkin drolly.
“That’s why I don’t think she’s a woman,” Borel quipped, drawing some good-natured jibes from those in attendance.
“We pointed her to this race to tackle history, so that’s what we’re doing,” said co-owner Barbara Banke, a.k.a. Mrs. Jess Jackson.
“We want to prove she’s a great horse, one for the history books. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”