10 Years Since Rachel Alexandra and the Oaks

February 23, 2019

by Mary Dixon Reynolds

This year, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of Rachel Alexandra’s breathtaking Kentucky Oaks, which unwittingly began her campaign for Horse of the Year.

The exquisite looking bay filly with the upside down question mark on her face was named after owner and breeder Dolphus Morrison’s granddaughter. Before she became so successful, Morrison sold part interest in her to Michael Lauffer. She was trained by Hal Wiggins.

The Medaglia d’Oro filly broke her maiden in her second race. She set a stakes record in the Golden Rod, then won the Fantasy by 8 3/4 lengths.

On May 1st in Louisville, her coat flickered in the bright sunlight. She looked like the deserving 3/5 favorite, having won her last four stakes races. Her usual jockey, Calvin Borel, was in the irons. He already possessed a great affinity for the filly. He never had to use the stick much or really encourage her to run. She did it all by herself. So, he hadn’t reached for the bottom. He never had to at this point.

There was a crowd of 104,867 at Churchill Downs to witness one of racing’s great spectacles in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. No one was aware, not even her trainer, what they would see.

The gate sprang open and Rachel and her six rivals hustled for position. Rachel who usually liked to be up front, gave up the lead to Gaby’s Golden Girl. Rachel was content to sit behind her as the field went through a quarter in 23.75 and a half in 47.46.

On the backstretch, Borel sat chilly, and then made his move with as less movement as a man pulling down his cuff. This was Rachel’s cue and she spurted off. She moved past the pace-setter, Gaby’s Golden Girl, then began to open up without any urging from Borel.

Announcer Mark Johnson could not hide his excitement: “And now Rachel Alexandra’s opening up! Five lengths on the field……six…..A Tour de Force by the Super Filly…..Calvin Borel isn’t moving a muscle…Oh, Super Filly…You Bet…What’s the final margin? ……She might have won by 20!” Mark Johnson’s voice was cracking with excitement.

The crowd were on their feet cheering the unbelievable performance they had just shared. Donna Brothers rode up to Borel and Rachel after the race. Calvin was emotional. He had really connected with the filly. He said she was one of the best horses he had ever ridden and he had never gotten to the bottom of her.

After she won, her trainer was asked if she would run in the Preakness. He said no, he didn’t believe running fillies with colts. There was some dealing going on shortly after the race that would catapult Rachel Alexandra to certain races, several with colts that would make her the obvious horse who would win Horse of the Year.

Rachel was sold to Stonestreet’s Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick. She was moved to Steve Asmussen’s barn and they planned the course that looking back, is one of the most incredible campaigns in thoroughbred history. And it was successful.

Jackson wanted to race her in the Preakness. This posed a problem for Borel. He had just won the Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird. Borel asked Jackson if he could ride Rachel. They agreed to keep Borel on board. This just reaffirms what a special horse she was. For the jockey of the Derby horse to get off and ride another horse, especially a filly.

She would go on to win the Preakness and the other races they had mapped out for her. It was such a special campaign, that we need to recognize the beauty of that time on the 10th anniversary of this achievement.

@jonathanstettin such a great read! In my car reading this on my lunch break with a huge smile.

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