News of Rachel Alexandra’s retirement this week should be met with applause, not because she won’t race anymore but because she turned in one of the most — if not THE most — spectacular 3-year-old seasons a filly has ever enjoyed and that she is ending her career healthy and able to head off to the breeding shed to hopefully produce foals that will thrill a horse racing nation much like Rachel thrilled all of us in 2009.
This isn’t about Zenyatta vs. Rachel anymore. Sure, there are some Zenyatta zealots out there who are bragging today and yelling about how Rachel’s retirement just proves that their heroine was the superior race horse all along. Just as there would be Rachel Alexandra fanatics doing the same thing if the horse shoe was on the other foot.
But that’s just petty jealousy. I truly want to believe that the majority of the industry — fans and horsemen alike — appreciated and enjoyed watching both of these tremendous female athletes perform their amazing feats. And I think for the most part they did, save the few on both sides who refused to give the other their due.
The question so many are asking today is why was Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, not as dominant in 2010 as she was a year ago?
One theory being thrown around out there is that she peaked in 2009. Many fillies who enjoyed brilliant 2-year-old campaigns — Halfbridled and Stardom Bound are two that immediately come to mind — couldn’t carry their 2-year-old form into their 3-year-old seasons.
The most popular theory is that Rachel Alexandra’s hard 2009 campaign was just too rigid for her to maintain her brilliance past her 3-year-old campaign.
Trainer Shug McGaughey belongs to the latter camp, telling racing writers on a NTRA national teleconference this week only hours before Rachel’s retirement was announced that it only makes sense that racing against the boys three times might have drained her.
“She had a tough campaign as a 3-year-old,” McGaughey said. “I mean, Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen, they bought her and they laid it on the line. My hat’s off to ’em, running in the Preakness, the Haskell and then coming back and running her at Saratoga in the Woodward. That was a tough campaign, but it sure was great for racing and it captured everybody’s (attention).
“Did it take a little bit out of her? Maybe it did, ya know? She’s been beaten three times this year and hard campaigns are hard on horses, but she’s still a fabulous filly.”
Zenyatta’s regular rider, Mike Smith, is not one who gloated when Rachel Alexandra would lose a race. Asked this week about his thoughts when Rachel Alexandra was run down by Persistently in the final stages of the Personal Ensign at Saratoga in what turned out to be the final race of her stellar career, Smith was his usual classy self.
“I was sad,” he said. “I’m actually a Rachel fan myself, but she had a tough campaign last year and I don’t know if it was showing just a little bit or not, but again she ran a big race that day, she ran awfully fast, and never just threw the towel in. She fought until the end.”
It’s always sad when horse racing loses one of its superstars to retirement, but we’ll always have the memories of the Medaglia d’Oro filly winning the Preakness by 20 lengths and the Mother Goose by 19. We’ll always be able to recall when she held off a hard-charging Macho Again and beat older males in the Woodward.
So now it’s off to the breeding shed for a future booking with Curlin, the 2008 Horse of the Year, and it will be interesting to see if they can produce a colt or filly with anywhere near the brillance they both displayed on the race track.
One thing’s for certain — they’ll both have plenty to brag to the other about.