SARATOGA SPRINGS, September 9, 2009--The year of the filly, indeed,
It was Rachel and Rice and everything nice. It’s always that way when given a chance to witness history.
Rachel Alexandra, the thoroughbred, runs like a girl. Linda Rice, the horse woman, trains like a girl. And between them, they made history.
When history is rewritten in Saratoga, that’s saying something. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t tip our cap to a couple of gents who helped make history possible.
In the largest measure, Rachel Alexandra’s amazing display of speed and stamina is a credit to the filly, period.
And to her handlers, also. There’s still the little matter of female thoroughbreds going in and out of cycle that can affect performance.
The horsemen around the filly--Asmussen, Blasi, Terry--did their jobs. And her owners, Jackson and McCormack, gave her the opportunity.
But Rachel’s victory must be shared with another male, Admiral Rous, a handicapper with the English Jockey Club. Rous developed the concept of weight-for-age which in theory measures the relationship of age to physical maturity.
And with a few minor tweaks here and there, Rous’ original scale has remained virtually unchanged since its inception in the 1860s.
Amazing that at the end of the Woodward’s nine furlongs, a three-year-old filly defeated a four-your-old by a head, getting an eight-pound pull in the weights.
How do it know?
We are happy for her achievement and those of her staff for their singular success. But without P. J. Campo’s condition book it could never have happened.
Trainers win meet titles when their horses have been brought to peak condition and fit the conditions.
Turf sprints, especially of the 5-½ furlong variety, have become a dominant condition on the New York racing scene. And no trainer has more turf-sprint specialists under their shedrow than Linda Rice.
Rice’s horses won these races in bunches. Then, when the courses became more speed favoring at meet’s end, and with Rice aggressively spotting her horses in search of the title, her sprinters stretched out successfully.
Sometimes race dynamics played a role, too, when sprinters were left alone on the lead. (See Mother Russia in the fourth race on the Woodward under-card).
But it’s the new NYRA condition book, one that, in the interests of betting handle, stresses quantity over quality, that helped make Rice’s achievement possible.
Plenty of other trainers won this condition, too. But any horseman, any horseman, worthy of stalls on the NYRA circuit can get a horse ready to zip five and-a-half on the grass.
And how are these kinds of races--on a circuit that boasts the strongest and deepest Grade 1 program in the world--supposed to improve the sport, and the breed, exactly?
None of this is the fault of Linda Rice or Rachel Alexandra, however. They used their talents to play the hands they were dealt. Kudos to them both for providing the best memories of Saratoga 2009.
Other Lasting Impressions of the Spa Meet Past:
The six-horse photo and the crowd’s reaction to every replay.
Veteran Richard Migliore winning the Grade 1 Test Stakes.
Watching Salve Germania virtually run off in the post parade and winning the Ballston Spa Stakes, anyway.
The old building rockin’ and rollin’ as Macho Again chased Rachel down the stretch.
A playful Boss rockin’ SPAC.
Lining up a solid five minutes waiting to enter the Woodward paddock.
“The Chief” and Liz Jerkens taking their seats at the annual New York Turf Writers awards dinner.
Hardscrabble press box reporters applauding Rachel’s victory.
Music Note’s G1 Ballerina.
The stuffed zucchini flowers at Augie's.
Watching assistant trainer/exercise rider/jockey Danielle Hodsdon win a flat race one day and a jump race the next.
Watching the Jackson family’s next star, Hot Dixie Chick.
Pyro, back from knee surgery, winning the Forego.
The field strung out for a quarter mile in the stretch run of that two-mile race.
Icon Project's continued development dominating the Personal Ensign.
Summer Bird proving he’s more than a marathoner with his sharp Travers score.
Vineyard Haven’s amazing comeback to win the King’s Bishop in a triumphant return to Saratoga.
The continued development of jockey Rajiv Maragh.
A Travers-size crowd to see Rachel Alexandra school in the paddock Thursday of Woodward week.
The classy, unflappable Ramon Dominguez winning his first Saratoga riding title.
Careless Jewel’s Alabama.
Hattie’s fried chicken, the best on the planet.
The amazing Fabulous Strike’s guts to win the G2 Vanderbilt.
Billy Badgett‘s comeback.
The onion rings at Juicy Burgers.
Bob Baffert, as a humble Hall of Famer.
Justenuffhumor raising his game, again, to win the G2 Bernard Baruch.
Graham Motion’s consistency.
Fettucini Portobello at Sergio's.
Spinners wrapped around double the length of the stretch for the popular long-sleeve tee-shirt giveaway, a rare winning favorite at the meet.
Rachel’s Haskell (road trip).
Paddock judges allowing an extra circumference of the Woodward walking ring so that fans could get a second look at the filly.
Trainer Larry Jones' warm acceptance speech at the Turf Writers’ dinner.
Parents with young children at the races.
Frank’s backyard garden at Sperry’s.
Horse vans leaving the backside on closing day, heading to parts unknown.