Unless Rachel Alexandra and Life At Ten get involved in a suicidal battle up front that I don’t see happening, today’s $300,000 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga is without a doubt a two-horse race.
The Personal Ensign is going to be quite a chess match between Calvin Borel and John Velazquez, the riders of these two exceptional distaffers. Who takes the lead? Which one sits back off the pace and waits to make her run?
It’s obvious that Rachel Alexandra’s handlers feel she’s now ready for top competition after a rigorous 2009 campaign and a victory in the Woodward Stakes over the boys at Saratoga last September that took a lot more out of her than what was originally thought.
This is Rachel Alexandra’s fifth start of the year and her first in a Grade 1. Life At Ten is by far the toughest foe she’s confronted this year and it’s going to be interesting to see how Borel chooses to attack — with Rachel’s blazing early lick or by sitting back and letting Life At Ten do all the early work.
One key here — Life At Ten has already won at the taxing distance of 1 1/4 miles, which is the distance of the Personal Ensign. Rachel Alexandra, while winning the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes as a 3-year-old, has never won at the classic 1 1/4-mile distance.
Both females can scoot early. Rachel carved out fractions of 46 3/5 and 1:11 while winning the 2009 Preakness in gate-to-wire fashion, and Life At Ten went 23 1/5 and 45 2/5 in winning the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 12.
Rachel is the reigning Horse of the Year. Life At Ten has won six consecutive races and is without a doubt at the top of her game. Both will be ridden by good, solid riders who have a decision to make — send or sit back.
The other three horses entered are all closers and aren’t in either Rachel’s or Life At Ten’s league — unless the top two become involved in that suicidal speed duel that I mentioned earlier.
Both Rachel and Life At Ten have proven they can lay off the pace and win. Neither needs the lead for success, so I’m going to venture a guess and say that, because Life At Ten has already been successful at wiring the field at 1 1/4 miles in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap on July 17 at Delaware Park, that she’s going to set the pace here.
I am figuring Borel will have Rachel Alexandra just off the leader and ready to strike at a moment’s notice, but he won’t let Velazquez get away with the 49 3/5 and 1:14 splits that the latter was able to get away with in the Delaware Handicap.
Of course, there’s also the theory that Borel will just let Rachel break and send her, hoping she’ll recapture her form of a year ago that led to an 8-0 record and three victories over the boys. If Rachel is allowed to set reasonable splits on the front end, there may be no catching her.
I’m going with Rachel Alexandra to win what essentially is a match race between the two. But her 2-5 morning-line odds are way out of line. Rachel at 7-5 and Life At Ten at 9-5 would have been a fairer price, but we’ll see.
Whatever transpires, it should be a heck of a horse race.