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Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Rachel: Racing’s Great Bay Hope


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 6, 2009--It’s 12:41 as we begin writing this post and all anyone still wants to take about is the filly.

With her record-making performance in yesterday’s 56th Woodward Stakes, it’s OK to give her the one-name treatment. Just call her Rachel.

Inquiring minds wanted to know things and the questions began in the immediate aftermath of a truly remarkable performance.

I’m still thinking about some o my remarkable favorites. Someone mentioned Holy Bull’s Travers. There’s Personal Ensign’s Distaff. Slew’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Forego nailing Honest Pleasure from the center of Belmont Park’s grandstand. Meadow Star and Lite Light, a battle that took the camera 10 minutes to discern.

What does it matter, really? When these things occur the game defines itself in the best way possible. If you love horses and love racing, it’s a privilege to bear witness.

I know I don’t expect to see anything like it again.

Until Jess Jackson decides the only challenge left is the Grand National.


I was almost finished with my Woodward wrap-up Saturday evening when someone asked: “Can you hardly wait for her to meet Zenyatta?”

I can wait to see Rachel Alexandra run next as a four-year-old. The Horse of the Year dance is over. It ended at the Woodward finish line on Saturday.

No need to recall the rest of her season. If your memory needs jogging, follow Casey’s advice: You can look it up.

Zenyatta can win another 10 in succession. Almost anything pales in comparison.

The good news for Breeders’ Cup fans is--a Beldame showdown notwithstanding--that a victory over Sea the Stars in the Classic would give Zenyatta boosters a glimmer of hope.

“Don’t you want to see Rachel meet Zenyatta at a mile and a quarter? It’s the classic distance. I’m not sure Rachel can go a mile and a quarter,” someone said.

I was too polite to reply “I’m not sure you don’t need shock therapy.”

The counter to the distance postulate is a four-letter word: P-A-C-E.

Anyone who believes Rachel Alexandra’s effort in the final sixteenth of the Woodward was indicative of a horse that can’t stay 10 furlongs clearly doesn’t understand pace.

The early fractions were :22.85 and :46.41. Around a turn!

Getting an eight-pound allowance for sex and age, Rachel raced virtually head to head with a Belmont winner, was hounded from close range by last year’s Woodward runnerup and allowed a recent dozen length winner over the track and distance to sit a perfect trip.

Rachel Alexandra defeated Macho Again--last behind the brutal pace and was ridden pluperfectly, inside-out, by Robby Albarado--by a head in 1:48.29. It was the fastest two-turn Woodward run at Saratoga.

The Rachel chasers eventually finished sixth by 18 lengths, seventh by 20-½, and the third one was eased.

Take a second to reflect on that. Over four decades I’ve watched about four gazillion races? Many of them twice. The result is as astonishing in reflection as it was live.

Now it’s 22 hours later and I still haven’t met an observer who didn’t believe her beaten with a furlong left to run.

There is no need for Rachel Alexandra to run again this year. There’s one world left to conquer but there’s no rule that it has to be in this calendar year. But there is a concern.

This filly has a remarkable constitution and recovers quickly from efforts. Her preparation for the Woodward was a tad light because trainer Steve Asmussen couldn’t train her on the Oklahoma track the way he wanted, a surface that builds wind and takes the edge off.

Unflappable as she was when surrounded in a standing-room-only paddock, she was a little too energetic parading postward, bucking and unseating Calvin Borel. But she was composed enough to not run off, waiting for her rider to remount.

The point here is that she may not stand for an extended vacation. Do you turn her out? Let her be a horse?

Turning horses out is good for them. Allows them grow, recharge the batteries. But have her running around free in some paddock somewhere? I just don’t see Asmussen letting her out of his sight.

Given her recuperative powers, there’s the other philosophy: Run them when they’re good.

Jess Jackson spent his money buying potential greatness and set out to prove it the only place it counts, between the fences. Yesterday he gave racing an indelible memory.

Jackson has often said that Rachel tells him when to run. Perhaps she will before this year ends. If common sense were the measure, all other factors notwithstanding, she has much more to lose than gain at this juncture.

Every time Rachel Alexandra steps on a racetrack an industry holds its breath. She’s the biggest star in the game. The last two Woodwards drew 22,000 and 31,000 fans, respectively.

The 2008 attraction was Curlin, a reigning Horse of the Year. Yesterday, it was the three-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra. She was worth an estimated 10- to 15,000 people.

This morning on NPR radio, Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward victory was the lead news story. Even without national television people are beginning to notice a race horse again.

One, anyway.

Written by John Pricci

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