Rachel Alexandra’s 10th Anniversary

May 17, 2019

Rachel Alexandra: It’s Been 10 Years

By Mary Dixon Reynolds

It is difficult to believe it has been ten years since the super filly, Rachel Alexandra took us all on the ride of a lifetime during her 2009 campaign which culminated in an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

It does not seem like 10 years have separated us from those days when we saw the bay filly with the white upside-down exclamation blaze seemingly sprout wings while breaking many stakes records, track records and, winning margins records as she broke several fillies hearts or while she beat the 2009 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winners as well as talented horses like future Eclipse award winner, Big Drama and Munnings. In the 2009 Woodward Stakes she put an exclamation mark on her 2009 campaign by beating older horses and in doing so broke their hearts. None of the horses that Rachel faced in the Woodward ever went back to their winning form.. We would not know for several months, but this race also took something from Rachel. She left part of her heart on the Saratoga racetrack.  

May 1, 2009 at Churchill Downs was Kentucky Oaks Day. People try to obtain perfection in sports, literature, art and life but it is rarely achieved. That day the crowd saw perfection in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing.

“And now she’s opening up…..5 lengths on the field…, 6 lengths”

“Oh……a tour de force, by the super filly, Rachel Alexandra”

“Calvin Borel isn’t moving a muscle on her…..Super filly…you bet”

“She’s going to destroy this field!”

“What’s the final margin?”

“She might have won by 20!”

“Rachel Alexandra was absolutely spectacular….in 1 minute 48 and 4/5 seconds..Unbelievable!”

As Tom Durkin was trying to contain his composure, Another man began making plans. He had won Horse of the Year for 2007 and 2008 with the magnificent Curlin. His name was Jess Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Stable and he would change the entire trajectory of the current years racing season.

Owned and bred by Dolphus Morrison and co-owned by Michael Lauffer and trained by Hal Wiggins.. Donna Brothers asked Morrison and Wiggins if they would race her against colts. They said no, they didn’t believe in fillies racing with colts. Both owners and trainer Hal Wiggins said they knew she was a good horse but had no idea she was capable of the performance they had just witnessed.

Jess Jackson wanted this filly. His immediate plan was to race her in the Preakness and later, upon retirement, breed her to Curlin. Negotiations moved quickly under a confidentiality agreement but it is estimated that she was sold to Jackson for 10 million dollars.

Jackson put her in trainer Steve Asumssen’s barn. He had trained Curlin. There are only two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness but the filly was fit  Calvin Borel who had won the Kentucky Derby on Mine That Bird the day after the Oaks talked to Jackson and Asumssen about staying on the filly .It was the first time in history that a  jockey who won the Kentucky Derby took off his Derby mount to ride against his Derby horse in the Preakness. Rachel’s former owner didn’t want to race her with colts so he did not nominate her for the Triple Crown races. That required Jackson to pay $100,000 as a supplement fee. Borel knew the filly and had only won on her so it was decided to keep him on. Hall of Famer, Mike Smith would ride Mine That Bird.in the Preakness.

The 2009 Preakness had many side stories caused by the entry of the talented filly. Three of the owners were going to make it difficult for her to enter, as she was not nominated beforehand. With all the media attention, they caved in and reluctantly accepted their fate.They were that intimidated by her. This was a most unusual Triple Crown season.

Rachel was the 9-5 favorite, having attracted so much attention with her 20 1/4 length win in the Kentucky Oaks. Although Mine That Bird had entered the Kentucky Derby at 50-1, he came from last place {he was so far back, he was off the screen} to win by 6 1/4 lengths. He won over many excellent colts including second place finisher, Pioneer of the Nile who went on to sire the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, American Pharoah.

77,850 people came to Pimlico to watch the Preakness with the otherworldly filly.. Rachel’s connections drew gate 13. No one had ever won from the 13 hole.This did not subdue the filly’s supporters. 12 colts, including the Kentucky Derby winner, would face her in the Preakness.

Breaking well from the outside, Rachel took the lead and would be there at every call. Down the stretch she began to pull away from the rest of the pack. Tom Durkin was again on hand to call the race and did so making many of his phrases unforgettable.

“Rachel Alexandra’s in front with one furlong to go!”

“The filly’s trying to hold on…..she’s clear by three!”

“Mine That Bird runs at her late!”

“And here’s the winner…….”

“THE FILLY DID IT!”

Rachel Alexandra had defeated the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, who again, came from last. She won by 3/4 of a length. She became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years.

Calvin Borel said that Rachel had a little trouble with the surface. She never was really comfortable on it. He told Donna Brothers, after the race that she was the best racehorse he had ever been on.Trainer Steve Asmussen who had only had Rachel in his barn a little more than a week said Hal Wiggins, her former trainer, did a wonderful job.

The 2009 Preakness was as wonderful as it’s build up. The filly gained numerous fans after her dazzling  Kentucky Oaks victory and they followed her to the Preakness where they were not disappointed. Rachel Alexandra gained many fans that were new to horse racing and I know many that have stayed with the sport and the filly.

These two races were the beginning of a historic campaign mapped out by Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen. Rachel would stun us again with her huge margin of victory in the Mother Goose. She captivated us with her win against colts in the Haskell where she easily won and she had us biting our lips in the Woodward. It’s been 10 years but one can still hear Tom Durkin yell out,

“The Filly Did It!”

Always check with Past the Wire for the latest horse racing news and more…..

 

@jonathanstettin Your article re reading when a horse dead on board made me some $ just now. Untapable was, IMO, odds-on, but dead. TY!

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