Rachel Alexandra was a magnificent filly in 2009, one for the ages. She had an 8-0 campaign that was worthy of Horse of the Year, beating the boys three times while thrilling her thousands of fans and helping attract much-needed new blood into the sport.
But it’s time to face reality — Rachel Alexandra is not the same filly anymore. That’s not to take anything away from what she accomplished last year because no one will ever be able to erase that magical season she posted. It’s in the history books forever and she’ll go down as one of the best 3-year-old fillies in racing history.
But, for whatever reason, she has not carried her 3-year-old form over into her 4-year-old season. Maybe the eight races last year took too much out of her. Maybe it was that grueling stretch drive in the Woodward at Saratoga when she was all out to hold off Macho Again that was the final straw. Maybe she peaked in 2009. Just because a horse is brilliant one season doesn’t automatically mean they will dominate again the following year.
Or perhaps it was the six-month layoff following her victory in the Woodward. Maybe that competitive fire has never returned once she hit the track again to begin training for a new season.
Deep down I think her connections know she’s not the same horse. I mean, the Personal Ensign on Sunday was her fifth start of 2010 and her first time entered in a Grade 1 race. How many times in history have you seen a returning Horse of the Year race four times against non-Grade 1 competition to begin a new season?
Co-owner Jess Jackson’s statement following the Personal Ensign, where Rachel Alexandra got run down in the final eighth of a mile by a filly — Persistently — who’d never won a graded stakes before and had just beaten optional claimers, was telling.
“We are disappointed in the result, as we are sure her countless fans are, but we are certainly not disappointed in her. She is still a superstar in our hearts and minds. The old sports adage applies … on any given Sunday, anything can happen.”
That’s the difference between 2009 and 2010 — last year, Rachel was a superstar on the track. This year, she’s only a superstar in our hearts and minds. We have yet to see that brilliance in 2010 that made her a national celebrity last year.
At this point, I don’t think there’s any chance we see Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. And even if her connections deem her sound enough to run in the Ladies’ Classic the day before, I really can’t see her winning against a field of fillies and mares that will undoubtedly be much stronger than the group she ran against in the Personal Ensign.
Rachel’s fans can argue back and forth all they want about jockey Calvin Borel’s ride in the Personal Ensign, but that’s not going to return the 4-year-old daugher of Medaglia d’Oro back to her previous form. The 3-year-old Rachel would have won the Personal Ensign, but the Rachel who’s a year older is just not the same horse.