If Curlin taught me anything in the Breeders’ Cup last year, it’s that the best horse doesn’t always win the race. Look also at the 2009 Stephen Foster where the sure bet, Einstein, was blocked in the whole way ’round and never got an opening, having to settle for third place to Macho Again, a horse he could beat by daylight on any given day. Some will say last week’s Travers is also an example of this notion, as the blazing Quality Road was boxed in and cornered on the rail, where a river of water had him logged until it was too late to work him into stride, and the lead was quickly surrendered to a free-floating Summer Bird. We like to think our heroes are invincible, but even Superman had his Kryptonite.
This is why Rachel Alexandra’s foray into the Woodward is a little unsettling: she is daring to challenge history at Saratoga Race Course, the notorious “Graveyard of Champions;” it was here that Man o’ War was handed his only defeat in 21 starts, here that the mighty Secretariat was beaten by Onion, here that the name Jim Dandy would ring forever, when the 100-1 longshot beat the Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox. It was here that a horse named “Upset” became a vernacular in the world of horse racing, synonymous to when a favorite is undermined. Rachel Alexandra won’t just be battling older horses in the Woodward, she will attempting to vanquish the spirits of Saratoga.
This Saturday, the already-legendary filly will try to defy the odds when she enters the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga against older horses. The 3-year-old filly will be facing older horses for the first time, trying her luck in a race no female has ever won in the previous 55 years the race has been run. She will also be trying to make history in that Rachel will be attempting to become the first 3-year-old filly to win a route race against older horses since 1887, when Primrose won the Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles on dirt.
No, this is not standard routine for most female horses. Only seven fillies or mares have ever actually entered the Woodward before, and only one before was a 3-year-old. Why is this? Because most fillies can’t run with the old guys; let’s face it, they’re more tested, they’re bigger, and more aggressive. It’s essentially like throwing a ten-year-old girl into a race with a bunch of teenage boys. And you know what teenage boys are like.
So even though Miss Alexandra has faced plenty of tough competition in the 3-year-old division, she will be again setting out to conquer a new frontier in the Woodward; on paper, her competition looks like it could be beaten by most of what she’s already faced, but as this is horse racing, you just never know how horses are going to run on any given day.
Take Macho Again. Who in the world has figured this horse out? His record has the predictability of a slot machine, pull the lever and see what you get. It appears he either loves a race, or hates it; his last two starts have been more consistent than any other period in his life, when he won the Stephen Foster, he next finished second to Bullsbay in the Whitney. By the look of his racing record, he’s scheduled for a flop, but maybe he’s matured, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s to be watched.
Bullsbay is the most consistent horse in the field. Though he’s turned in two curious flops this year and one fourth place finish, he’s either won or placed second in everything else. Most recently, he upset Commentator in the Whitney Handicap, securing his first Grade I victory, and took the Alysheba Stakes over Cool Coal Man on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. This will most likely be the horse to cause Rachel the biggest threat. His huge run in the Whitney suggests he is at the top of his game, and that if he gets the same rocket up his behind in the Woodward, Rachel better keep that late-runner in mind until he’s begun to make a move of his own.
The Woodward will be all about tactics. Calvin Borel will be riding the filly with a target on his back, and the field would be foolish not to try to block her in. One of the most impressive things about Rachel’s Preakness run was how she avoided traffic with the outside post position, and was able to run clear of trouble by going wide into the first turn. As she is breaking from post three in the Woodward, she will not have the same fortune this time around. Look for the front-running Da’Tara (the infamous winner who upset Big Brown in last year’s Belmont) to set the pace, and for the filly to find herself navigating between horses early.
What’s in Rachel Alexandra’s favor, you ask? Well, she’s Rachel Alexandra, for one. In short, she’s a freak, and she has the heart of a champion. She’s already made history in becoming the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years, then she dominated a field of capable males in the Haskell in near-record time, and she put to shame the fillies in her own division, winning by more than 19 lengths in her last two starts with them. She’s not just any filly, in other words. She is Alexandra the Great; the name in itself speaks of a conqueror. She is a comet, taking the reins of history and making what she will of it, leaving an unrivaled trail of accomplishments in her wake. She rides on the back of destiny, challenged only by the wind, and will scare the spirits of Saratoga back into its massive graveyard of champions.
The Grade I Woodward will air live this Saturday on TVG from Saratoga at approximately 5:52pm ET.