Rachel’s got a runner:
The most anticipated juvenile starter of the summer didn’t disappoint in her first afternoon appearance. Rachel’s Valentina went to post as the 6-5 favorite in her debut race at Saratoga on Sunday and won the six-furlong maiden special weight by two lengths over Awesome Dame in a time of 1:10.39. “We knew she was fast but this was a tough race,” said owner Barbara Banke after. “I’m so glad it went well. She was awesome.” (All quotes via NYRA.)
Rachel Alexandra’s 2-year-old Bernardini filly was — as trainer Todd Pletcher said before she started — slow to get going. Jockey John Velazquez had her under a hard ride down the backstretch. She picked up the pace with a strong move on the outside as the field came into the turn and entered the stretch running wide. Once she hit the lead, she didn’t need Velazquez’s encouragement to draw away. “There were no issues saving any ground, going four wide,” said Velazquez. “She really runs.”
Pletcher, who called the race “everything you can hope for in a debut,” said a start in the September 5 Spinaway Stakes was a possibility.
Maybe this is sentiment, but seeing the Stonestreet silks on a bay filly rounding perfectly into the stretch, poised to win, gave me a Rachel Alexandra flashback — for a moment, I thought I was seeing Valentina’s mother. Whatever she does next, I’m glad to have felt that thrill again.
8/3/15 Addendum: Baby’s first Beyer speed figure — 79.
There’s one juvenile I’m looking forward to seeing at Saratoga above all the other well-bred babies who will debut between Friday and Labor Day and that’s Rachel’s Valentina, the second foal of Rachel Alexandra. The 2-year-old filly by Bernardini is in Todd Pletcher’s Oklahoma barn, and she’s been working steadily since late May. David Grening reports that the trainer says she’s “about two works away from running” (DRF+):
“She acts like a filly with quality that you would certainly expect to improve with distance,” Pletcher said. “When you get a horse like that, it’s exciting to get one with that type of pedigree. It goes without saying that everyone has high hopes. They still have to do it. We’ve been very pleased with the way she’s performed since coming in.”
Watch for stablemate Anna House in race six on opening day — the first-time starter breezed four furlongs from the gate with Rachel’s Valentina on July 11. Valentina posted a bullet :47.04, Anna House :47.05.
Rachel Alexandra’s first foal, Jess’s Dream, is also at Saratoga. The 3-year-old Curlin colt’s path to a first start hasn’t been smooth:
[Trainer Kiaran] McLaughlin said Jess’s Dream has suffered from “little issues” such as respiratory problems caused by allergies. “Really weird stuff but he’s doing well,” he said.
7/26/15 Update: Rachel’s Valentina worked again from the gate, going four furlongs in :48.55 with stablemate Preppy. “I thought she worked very well. She’s not super quick away from the gate but she makes up for it once she gets going,” Pletcher told the NYRA press office. “We’ll see how she comes out of it and look through the condition book and try and figure something out.”
The Travers is now a possibility for Bayern after the 3-year-old colt trained by Bob Baffert wired the Haskell, winning by 7 1/4 lengths (replay). He was given a Beyer speed figure of 109 for the effort, two points higher than his freaky Woody Stephens win on Belmont Stakes day, and the second-highest Beyer awarded to any 3-year-old of either sex so far this year. Baffert had been thinking of the seven-furlong King’s Bishop as Bayern’s next start, “but I don’t think I’ll back him up after this,” he said post-race, per the Monmouth Park press notes. Instead of the 10-furlong Travers, writes Mike Watchmaker, “consider the nine-furlong Woodward at Saratoga against older horses one week after …” Hm, why not? The Haskell to Woodward move worked for Rachel Alexandra in 2009, and if any horse emerged from yesterday’s running looking like a potential Horse of Year candidate, it was the winner. It certainly wasn’t post-time favorite and fifth-place finisher Untapable — not to take anything away from the filly, who lost nothing as the leader of her division on Sunday and who was really up against it, running four wide on a track that may have been favoring a front-runner, but that performance should put an end to any further comparisons to the truly unbeatable 2009 Horse of the Year.
Related: “Have to bet Bayern off that huge 121 @TimeformUS Speed Figure [for the Woody Stephens],” tweeted Craig Milkowski before the Haskell. “It is a legit number.” The figuremaker gave the winner a 119 after.
Rachel Alexandra in her Stonestreet paddock, May 2012.
I’ll take any excuse for a Rachel Alexandra post, and Melissa Hoppert gives me a good one with a story about visiting the 2009 Preakness Stakes winner, who is recovering well from her near-death post-foaling ordeal earlier this year:
“Running is not the word for it,” Comer said. “She is breezing for the Belmont. When we turn around, she’s back to her old self. She is up in the air, she rears, she runs, she bucks, she plays. She is definitely feeling good.”
Wonderful! Get in the mood for today’s Preakness (post time 6:20 PM ET) with a replay of the 2009 edition. “She’s got her ears up, pricked, ready to go …”
You’re rooting for Orb today, right? “You’ve gotta.”
Superterrific, prepping the HRF Woodward Stakes Ten Things to Know feature in advance of Saturday’s race at Saratoga, sent me this reminder of Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 Woodward, a classic Ernie Munick video:
Picking up on the closing scene above:
The grandstand shook. We stood and roared for her. I’ll never forget.
At the Eclipse Awards, January 2010.
It was announced today that owner Jess Jackson, 81, has died.
Since last summer, it had been apparent that Jackson was not well. He missed seeing Rachel Alexandra win at Monmouth in the Lady’s Secret Stakes in July, he wasn’t at Saratoga to watch her work in August. His wife, Barbara Banke, began to take a more prominent role in the stable. And deep in a Jay Hovdey column, published in DRF in January, was a discreet mention of the cancer he had previously beat into remission (via).
None of which dulled the shock on hearing of his passing.
Jackson liked to see his horses run, and he enjoyed seeing his horses tested. Bringing Curlin back as a 4-year-old in 2008 and campaigning Rachel Alexandra as he did in 2009 was sporting (even if it could be frustrating, waiting on him to say where and when one of his stars might start next). I’ll always remember the Woodward, the grandstand shaking from the force of the crowd rising and cheering for Rachel as she streaked down the stretch. Her 3-year-old HOTY campaign was bold and historic, a remarkable achievement.
“They broke the mold with this guy,” eulogizes partner George Bolton.
4/24/11 Addendum: Joe Drape is out with an appraisal of Jackson’s racing career, which concludes:
Jackson, too, set some standards, one in particular that any horseplayer or horse lover can appreciate. He let his horses run instead of retiring them to the breeding shed and life as a pampered A.T.M. He ran them in the biggest races on the brightest stages. He didn’t worry if they got beat.
That quality was appreciated.
I understand that Rachel was held to a higher standard, as the reigning Horse of the Year, but to what end? Have we become so expecting of perfection of our stars, that they simply can not live up to them. Do we not allow ourselves to fully enjoy the special ones, because of these expectations?
There’s something about repeated brilliance that inspires a fear of loss (a fear not specific to racing). It’s sentimental. We can’t stand to lose the magic.
It’s no exaggeration to say that every year I bookmark, tweet, or link here to hundreds of horse racing features, columns, and blog posts — stories and opinions that catch my attention for a turn of phrase, the quality of storytelling, the depth of research, an unusual argument, or a striking insight. A few each year — like the 10 pieces below — are especially memorable.
The Making of ‘Legends’ (Pat Forde/ESPN)
“The present is another matter. The present stings a bit. The present is Kentucky Derby week, and it offers vivid evidence of how brutally hard it is even for learned horsemen with a lot of money to win a Derby — or to simply reach the starting gate.”
The Linemakers (John Scheinman/Pimlico)
“It is no secret the man gambles with gusto, a word that derives from the Latin gustus, or tasting. Carulli is all appetite and, like the bear he resembles, doesn’t like to be disturbed while concentrating.”
The Best Broodmare of All Time? (Alicia Wincze/Lexington Herald-Leader)
“Though Hasili was a stakes winner on the track and had a solid pedigree in her corner, nothing in her form could have indicated the impact she would have on the sport once she entered the breeding shed.”
What Makes the Great Ones Great? (Jay Hovdey/DRF)
“No question, in terms of personality type, the great ones appear to be happy in their work.”
Why We Love Secretariat (Meghan O’Rourke/Slate)
“In the moment when he pulls away from Sham, his brilliant archrival (who would’ve been a champion in any other year), we have the sense of an animal exceeding the boundaries of the category of animal.”
Forlorn Filly Comes from Nowhere (Bill Finley/NY Times)
“A few days after he bought a modestly bred horse from a friend named Don Hunt, Tim Snyder took a moment to reflect. He had no money, no horse trailer to get his new acquisition to where he needed to go and a filly that had been rejected by nearly everyone else who had come in contact with her. The horse had a clubfoot, a bad shoulder, a reputation for being slow and was blind in one eye, reason enough for Snyder to second-guess what he had just done.”
Who Really Invented Race Charts? (Kevin Martin/Colin’s Ghost)
“Whatever the case might be, it was Brunell who had the foresight to put race charts and later past performances into a daily publication dedicated to racing. While the above puts his role as ‘originator’ in doubt, no one can deny that he popularized the tools that all horseplayers have been dependent on for more than a century.” [See also, Martin’s follow-up post.]
Rachel’s Place in History (Gary West/West Points)
“Most of us had never seen anything like Rachel Alexandra, and for having seen her, I’m grateful.”
Frankel’s Rise No Romantic Dream (Chris McGrath/Independent)
“Despite the present, witless tendency to treat them as characters in search of an author, men such as Frankie Dettori and Henry Cecil could never be adequately prefigured by a script.”
A Vote for Horse Racing (Claire Novak/ESPN)
“For now, suffice it to say it is the opinion here that a vote for Zenyatta is, simply put, a vote for horse racing. To recognize this kind of runner as vital to the sport’s survival is common sense, not emotional gibberish as some would choose to believe.”
What’s missing? Add your must-reads from the year past in the comments …
Zenyatta paraded for fans in sunny California on Sunday, in snowy Kentucky on Monday. Despite the cold, a good-sized crowd turned out at Keeneland to see the champion one last time before she retreats to stud. I wish the same could have been done for Rachel Alexandra, unceremoniously retired at the end of September. But even though honoring the filly was something Churchill Downs was interested in doing, her connections were not, explains Jennie Rees: “However, six days before the fall meet began, Stonestreet Stable quietly sent a van to pick up Rachel at Churchill to take her to the farm …”
10:50 AM Update: Many thanks to Susan for pointing out a recent post (with photo!) on the Stonestreet Farms Facebook page: “For those of you who are interested in seeing [Rachel Alexandra], we wanted you to know that after the first of the year, we will be announcing … occasional visitation days …”
Take nothing away from Life At Ten’s workmanlike victory in the Beldame (gr. I), but she gets run into the ground by Rachel Alexandra in the Personal Ensign (gr. I), finishing 10 lengths behind her. The Beldame sets up perfectly for Rachel’s running style. How can you not wonder what Rachel would have done had she not been retired, coming off three bullet works. Was she injured? Did she bleed? Were her feet acting up? Or did Jess Jackson simply wake up one morning and decide to retire her? As long as Jackson keeps the reason for her retirement to himself and keeps Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi under a gag order, we’re always going to wonder. Her devoted fans deserved more.
In this whole drama (or non-drama, if that’s your perspective), assistant trainer Scott Blasi has been the one person involved who’s said anything remotely revealing about Rachel Alexandra’s retirement. And while it’s not much, it confirms Jackson’s statement. “We had her prepared for the Beldame,” Blasi told Tim Wilkin last week, “it was just a matter of what Mr. Jackson felt was right for her.” To Marcus Hersh, Blasi said the matter of retiring the filly had come up before last Tuesday, and that, “At the end of the day she’s retiring healthy and sound, and that’s all I could ever want for her.” What’s the difference? What makes Blasi’s words at least somewhat soothing? Robin Howlett, in a comment on an earlier post, explained it best:
There so much of this Rachel story that leaves a bad taste in the mouth; her never meeting Zenyatta, retiring out of the blue, the lack of at least some kind of interview with connections on their feelings behind making the decision. That’s what’s most frustrating. You just feel left out of the loop, like, as a fan, you never really mattered at all.
Some of these connections, don’t seem to understand how we racing fans feel. That they are not their horses, they’re OUR horses. They’re just a little more involved.
It’s not so much what (little) Blasi says, as it is how he says it. What leaves a bad taste and questions, even days later, is that Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen created a situation that left — rightly or wrongly — perceptions of an issue, physical or otherwise — and then refused to address it. They didn’t understand that a press release wouldn’t be enough.
Copyright © 2000-2015 by Jessica Chapel. All rights reserved.