Sunday, October 10, 2010

Farewell Rachel

Sunday October 10 2010

She's done. Already gone home.

4-year-old Rachel Alexandra, Thoroughbred racing's Champion 3-year-old filly and Horse of the Year last year, was suddenly retired from racing on September 28th.

She was brilliant at 3, undefeated in 9 races, including 3 against males (the Preakness, Haskell Invitational, and Woodward Stakes); she had the largest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks (20 1/4 lengths) and in the Mother Goose Stakes (19 1/4 lengths), she set 3 stakes records, and she became the only female ever (a 3 year old filly nonetheless!) to win the Woodward Stakes.

Many say that stunning effort in the Woodward Stakes - winning by a head and fighting for it every step of the way - took a lot out of her. It was one of the greatest performances ever seen by a filly against the boys.

Her next start - her first one at 4 - was a rather shocking defeat (second place against what looked to be soft competition) that would have set her up for a showdown with the Great racemare Zenyatta. That never happened. Rachel was again defeated in her next start (second place). In the next one she showed some of her brilliance of last year, winning by 10 1/2 lengths. Next race she won by 3. Next race - another defeat (second place).

She was preparing for the Beldame Stakes, and working sharply up to it - and suddenly her retirement was announced. Owner Jess Jackson said that Rachel "did not return to her 2009 form."

And that was it. There was no big Farewell party, no Rachel Alexandra Day to honor one of the Greatest fillies in Thoroughbred racing, ever.

I was a skeptic when that easily bandied about G-word ("Great") was thrust upon Rachel early in her 3-year-old year. I was a skeptic when, about the same time, Zenyatta started being showered with that banner too. Man O' War (in 1919) was a Great horse. Secretariat (in 1973) was a Great horse. I'll get back to you on the others. (Like I said, I'm a Skeptic).

Nowadays when a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, announcers and analysts already have him winning the Triple Crown. If he happens to win the Derby and Preakness, he's already being compared to Secretariat (Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973; Affirmed was the last horse to win it in 1978). Nobody who has won the Derby and Preakness could have come close to filling out Secretariat's shoes, so you'll have to pardon me when I scoff at the 20th horse in 10 years who's been called 'Great', who most of us can't remember the names of anymore.

But Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta wore me down. Rachel made me gasp at her wins, and still Zenyatta brings me to weeping with her every race. They are both the two Greatest mares I'll ever see in my lifetime. It has been a privilege to watch Rachel Alexandra run, and it's still a drop-to-my-knees humbling privilege to watch Zenyatta run.

Long live the two Great racehorses Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Farewell Rachel, may you have a long productive life as a broodmare. Thanks for the thrills.

(And Zenyatta goes for her record 20th straight win in the Breeders' Cup, November 6th).

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