October 7, 2009

Rachel is Rachel

Somebody asked me recently how I could call Rachel Alexandra my favorite horse of all time when I have been following the horses my entire life. He thought surely a horse of yesteryear brought me more joy than my current favorite. He asked me why I saw her as so special to place her closer to my heart than hundreds of other wonderful horses that I have loved over the years. A myriad of reasons crossed my mind, but I really had to think of the very best and most honest answer I could give my inquisitor.

My first thought was just to say, “Well, have you seen her???” Too simple an answer I decided, but everyone out there who loves Rachel like I do, knows exactly what I mean.

I considered what Rachel Alexandra means to the people closest to her. You can see it in what they say, how they act, and their expressions of pure joy simply being around her. No person embodies this more than her jockey, Calvin Borel. Here is a man who has been in the business for 30 years and is at the summit of what he does. One of the best riders in the world, he is closing in on 5,000 career wins. He has ridden many first-rate horses, including Street Sense a champion who won the BC Juvenile, Kentucky Derby and Travers, but Calvin Borel, for all his accomplishments, has never loved a racehorse like he does Rachel. It was so important to him to keep the mount on Rachel when she changed hands, even though he could have ridden the Derby winner. His emotions bubble to the surface whenever he gets a chance to see, talk about, or be on his horse. For him, nothing compares to Rachel Alexandra.

I thought about her sheer brilliance. The way she wins race after race, nine in a row now. Her winning streak has coincided with Borel being named to ride her. Last year she finished off the season with the most impressive race any 2-year-old filly ran, in easily winning the Golden Rod over the classy Sara Louise. In that race she ran much faster than the stakes colts ran the same day. Rachel Alexandra began this year with an 8 length score in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park. On to New Orleans and a win in the Fair Grounds Oaks in which Borel was so confident that he wrapped her up at the 16th pole, she could have won by 20! Back to Oaklawn, and a romping win in the Fantasy. By now everyone in the industry knew about her, but she was about to make herself known to the world. The Kentucky Oaks is arguably the most important race for 3-year-old fillies and all Rachel did was win by over 20 lengths…incredible! This race would lead to a very expensive sale, sending her to new owners and a new trainer.

With the new handlers, came tougher competition, but no less brilliance. Her win in the Preakness was amazing as she broke from the 13 hole and battled on the lead. This is something that Preakness winners just don’t do. Yet Rachel Alexandra overcame and beat the boys in a classic race at a classic distance. Next for her was the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont where she scared off the other 3-year-old fillies. It was a three horse race in which she remarkably ran 1:46 and 1, winning by 19 lengths while being geared down late. After that it was back to the boys. Rachel destroyed the Haskell field, winning off by 6 lengths over 2nd place Summer Bird. Through with 3-year-olds, Rachel looked for new worlds to conquer. She found that test in the prestigious Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. Proving that no test was too great, she was run at by horse after horse. The older boys pressured her every step and she was still able to hold off the perfect trip closer, Macho Again. She was the first female ever to win the Woodward. What a streak, the greatest that I have ever seen a female horse run, brilliant!

I reflected on her beauty. She is a stunningly gorgeous bay filly. Sculpted by a higher power, Rachel Alexandra is everything a thoroughbred racehorse is supposed to be within her 16 hands. Her chiseled body is both feminine and powerful at the same time. She exudes her pure class from the look in her eye, to the way she holds her head, to her perfectly braided mane. Her stride is elegant, efficient and effortless. Rachel’s interrupted blaze further sets her apart from the rest. To be close to her is to know that you are around something truly special.

I recalled the thrill of watching her races. She makes my heart beat out loud every time she enters the starting gate. Maybe the best way for me to describe it is through the exclamations made by the professionals calling her races: “Rachel Alexandra, one of the greatest fillies ever to race at Oaklawn is giving us a spectacular performance in the Fantasy!” “Oh a tour-de-force by the super filly!” “Oh, super filly, you bet!” “Un-be-lievable!” “And the filly did it!” “Rachel Alexandra has defeated the Kentucky Derby winner!” “She’s pouring it on in a dazzling display!“ “Her march to greatness continues!” “Here‘s a filly for the ages, a Haskell legend, Rachel Alexandra did it!” “She is indeed Rachel Alexandra the great!” “Rachel Alexandra raises the rafters here at the Spa!” Pretty well said, don’t you think?

I thought of all those things and more, but in the end, I gave him this simple answer: Rachel Alexandra is the first horse to truly make me feel like a little kid again. What could be better than that?


Celeste said...

You've written a beautiful tribute to your favorite horse. Thank you for sharing your joy in her performances. She is something very special.

Luvbarbaro said...

That was wonderful Brian, it gave me goosebumps reading it. Rachel deserves every compliment you gave her. She won the Oaks by 20 lengths, she's broken track records, she's beaten the boys, she is absolutely beautiful & classy in every way. I can't say enough about her & all her connections.

Great Blog! :>)

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said

Jennifer Cook said...

What a wonderful trip down the Rachel memory lane. Thanks especially for mentioning her two brilliant races at Oaklawn. She WAS breathtaking. What gets me about her the most is how her coat goes black right in the center of the blaze. I about passed out when I got close enough to see that! True love :)

Anonymous said...

wonderful way to describe her.

NetworkEmpowerment said...

I am at a loss for words, and as an aspiring writer, that does not happen to me often. I can not say anthing that hasn't been said already. What a sincerely beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you really love this horse! But no more than I do. Rachel is truly my beautiful Queen. Watching her race, or do anything for that matter, has been the most exciting thing I've done this year. This is a special Filly and I'll never, ever forgot the joy she gave us just by being her. I adore her and cannot wait to see her next year.

Anonymous said...

That was a wonderful tribute to a very special filly. I saw her run in the Mother Goose and in the Woodward. When she won the Woodward in that spine-tingling finish against Macho Again, the crowd went crazy. Strangers were hugging each other--it was unbelievable. I love Ruffian and she is my all-time hero(ine), but that was so long ago. I never thought that I would have the privilege of seeing another filly that is as unique as my Ruffian was and I feel blessed. Long live Rachel Alexandra the Great!

ThePixiePoet said...

I am the opposite of you in some ways. I NEVER had an interest in horse racing, until I saw her in the news for her Preakness wins. Now I am a FANATIC for Rachel. I am a major contributor to her Wikipedia page,
and I posted 11 videos of her on YOUTUBE.

She is INDEED Rachel Alexandra THE GREAT!!!