Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where should Rachel run next?

If you ask most people who follow horse racing, including me, they will tell you that Horse of the Year honors have already been wrapped up with one horse alone towering over her competition: the 3-year-old sensation Rachel Alexandra.

In short, she is nothing short of amazing. She's already defeated two top-class fields of three-year-old colts, and has made laughing-stocks of the fillies in her division. So the question remains: where should this dominating filly race next?

According to, Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen will decide formally on her next race this coming Monday after Rachel's workout at Saratoga.

Blood-Horse veteran turf writer Steve Haskin has already started spreading the word that Rachel will enter the Woodward, a Grade I race for males 3 years old and upward, which has never been won by a female before; but this isn't confirmed by the filly's connections. If indeed Rachel does run in the Woodward, I have to strain my brain as to who would be her competition. As it stands now, there really is no older male dirt star, now that Curlin has been retired. Most of the buzz this year is around turf horses like Gio Ponti, but there is a possibility, with his versatile track record, that Einstein could be game.

In all honestly, Rachel's biggest competition lies in the 3-year-olds she has been facing, plus one giant who is returning to the track to regain his title of 3-year-old King: Quality Road. His first race since winning the Florida Derby marked a cutback in distance (which wasn't in his favor) and setting a new track record of 1:13.74 over 6 1/2 furlongs in the Amsterdam, smashing a record that stood for 30 years. I repeat: not a stakes, but a track record. If Quality Road isn't seen as a threat to Jackson and Co., they need to reassess their Daily Racing Form. Yes, Rachel is brilliant, but so is the 'Road. Both horses are intriguing, both horses look unbeatable. If we never get to see a showdown between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, we should be satisfied if these two Titans ever clash.

Rachel Alexandra is nominated to the Travers, the Woodward, and the Pennsylvania Derby, but as these races are within a week of each other, she will only be pointed toward one. Her regular exercise rider, Dominic Terry, said the filly "was a lot stronger than normal... she was pulling me to the pole. She went really nice and galloped out really strong. I couldn't ask for more." Trainer Steve Asmussen, who watched her working through the fog at the Oaklahoma training track, said of Rachel, "I'll have confidence in her anywhere they want to run her."

How scary is it that she's reported working stronger than ever? After having watched this phenomenal filly work in person, I have to say her competitors should be shaking in their shoes.

You can watch that very work of Rachel before her smashing Kentucky Oaks victory here, from YouTube. She is a bit spooky because of the people watching from the Churchill grandstands, but mainly she's just trying to pull the arms off of her exercise rider. Watch this and just try not to get goosebumps.

So, where should Rachel run next? Which is more integral to her legacy, a race against a probable soft field of older males, or to go up against the monster in Quality Road in the Travers? While my vote lies in a match-up against the 'Road, I'm all for seeing her make pansies out of the old men. She's already beaten up on the girls and the boys, so why not strike out on a new frontier and check off one more accolade to her growing list of accomplishments?

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