Rachel Alexandra does it Again: First Female to Ever Win Woodward Stakes

Jockey Calvin Borel rides Rachel Alexandra to victory in the Grade-I Woodward Stakes
at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY, Saturday, 5 September 2009.

Image: Mike Groll (AP Photo) [larger view]

For those of you who, like me, love watching the phenomenal Rachel Alexandra run, you had a real treat yesterday when the 3-year-old filly beat the boys -- again -- in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. The purse for this race, traditionally meant to test older male horses, was increased by $250,000 after her entry was announced.

In short, Rachel was tested yesterday, but after setting a blistering pace, she won by a head over Macho Again after leading wire-to-wire.

Only one other 3-year-old filly has ever started in the Grade-I Woodward Stakes, and there have only been seven female entrants since this historic race was first run in 1954. This stunning victory made Rachel Alexandra the first race's female victor as well as the first 3-year-old filly to win a grade I unrestricted route race on the dirt in New York since the system of grading races began in 1973.

Colts are larger and stronger than fillies, especially when they are older than their female competitors. To compensate, the dark bay filly carried 118 pounds, while her seven older male rivals were all assigned 126 pounds.

But Rachel Alexandra's race was almost over before it began: the 3-10 favorite bucked jockey Calvin Borel off, leaving him on the track in front of the 31,171 fans with just six minutes to post time. Fortunately, Borel hung on to her reins and was helped back aboard by an outrider.

"Thank God she didn't get away," he said. "It was a freak accident. The people hollering, that scared her."

Rachel Alexandra's exuberance was obvious after the starting bell sounded too. Usually easy to rate, she surprised everyone by jumping out of the gates in front to set a blistering 22.85 opening quarter, although Borel managed to slow her slightly, giving her a little breather as she ran the half in :46.41.

When the field straightened out in the homestretch, Rachel Alexandra was still in the lead by a length-and-a-half. But the boys were coming: Whitney Handicap winner, 5-year-old Bullsbay, came within a neck, but the gallant filly denied him the lead. The 4-year-old gray, Macho Again, then tried to challenge her, but Rachel Alexandra held him off, too, keeping her elegant head out in front.

"I never thought I had her," said Robby Albarado, who rode Macho Again. "She's a champion. Champions find ways to win."

"She was never going to let him get by her," Borel said. "Every time he ran up to her, she dug in. She's a tremendous filly. He ran up to me about three times in the lane and every time she gave me a little more run."

"Champions show different dimensions," observed Albarado. "She is in a league of her own. She has beaten every top division we have in racing. Older horses, her age, it doesn't matter. No matter what they throw at her, she'll beat them."

The final time on the fast racetrack was 1:48.29.

"I can't even begin to measure how good she is," remarked trainer Steve Asmussen. "I can't say how proud I am of her."

Rachel Alexandra paid $2.60 to win, although many tickets are being held as souvenirs by her adoring fans. Rachel Alexandra's record so far is an exceptional 10-2-0 out of 13 starts for earnings of $2,498,354.

"I think she's something for the ages," said co-owner Jess Jackson. "She certainly proved her mettle again. I think she was a little down today, but she still won, and that proved her greatness."

This victory, her ninth straight and 8-for-8 this year, makes Rachel Alexandra the likely winner of the 2009 Horse of the Year Award, even though there are four more months remaining in this year's racing season. If she wins the vote for Horse of the Year, she will be the first 3-year-old filly to win that award since Twilight Tear (1944) and Busher (1945).

Racing fans hope that Rachel Alexandra might start in the Grade-I Beldame Stakes. The Beldame Stakes is a 1 1/8-mile (9 furlong) held at at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, on 3 October. The Beldame Stakes is a dirt race for fillies and mares, three-years-old and up, that was first run in 1939. If she competes in that race, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro might face off against the undefeated west coast mare, Zenyatta.

Betfair Ltd. and TVG, Internet gambling businesses, have pledged to boost the $600,000 Beldame Stakes purse to $1 million if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both start in that race.

But after her remarkable Preakness, Haskell and Woodward triple victories, Jackson has not committed to any more races this year, saying that Rachel Alexandra would run next year as a 4-year-old.

"She's run more races than Zenyatta's run, and Zenyatta's a 5-year-old," Jackson pointed out. "You can't expect a youngster -- she's only 3 and she just ran against older horses -- to keep going all the time. You have to give them a break, and we'll talk that over very seriously."


TVG-Betfair boost Beldame purse Thoroughbred Times.

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Great race, but I think RA had HoY locked up right after the Preakness due to the "filly" angle.
That won't change even if JJ doesn't put her on ice and she gets beat, even if it's by Zenyatta on dirt.
Zenyatta has a very vocal fan base, but she had her shot for Hoy last year against Curlin, even after Curlin lost the BC Classic.

i confess i was one that really wanted her to go either to the beldame of JCGC after this race. but now i say give her a break--i think jackson is a man of his word and barring anything unforseen she will be back next year. bigger and stronger with perhaps new dimensions. would love to see her in a mile and a quarter race--maybe turf? who knows but with jackson you know there might be great surprises. they have given me a year a shan't forget for years to come.
ps-i feel zenyatta's undefeated mantle made her connections prisoners in away-hesitant to think out of the box--with rachel that is not so much an issue-thus i do see jackson trying a mile and a quarter and other new frontiers as well.

By joe coffey (not verified) on 06 Sep 2009 #permalink