WoodWard Weekend Part II
As I made my way to my seat, I began to realize where I really was again; I had just walked into the historic Saratoga Racecourse, the “Graveyard of Champions”. Thinking back on some of the most memorable performances that I can recall made me very aware of why this track is so historic. Thinking back to the 2008 Travers Stakes, and the incredible stretch drive when Colonel John and Mambo In Seattle hooked up. The 2008 Woodward as Curlin ran down Past the Point, and the most thrilling race to date that I’ve seen was the Alabama as Proud Spell and Music Note hooked up in this 1 ¼ mile classic distance event. The race set up perfectly for both fillies as Proud Spell sat stalking and Music Note was allowed to sit back in a closing position, as they turned for home they locked horns and ran together the length of the stretch, with Proud Spell winning by a head over Music Notes. These are the things I remember and passing through the gates of Saratoga the historic impact hit me like a ton of bricks.
Florence Griffith Joyner, Veronica Campbell, Dannica Patrick, these women are considered the speedsters of the world. Only one though has put herself in a position where she would face her male counter parts on a regular basis, the feat that Jess Jackson is going to ask his filly to accomplish today is something not unprecedented but it has not been accomplished in the history of horse racing. Seeing the horses come out for the first race was an incredible thing to see. The horses prancing around in the paddock, and the thought in the back of my head that Rachel Alexandra was back in her stall, most likely about to be awakened to get ready for her run with destiny. The first race was won by a horse with a fitting name, Starforaday, it was a nice ride by Rajiv Maragh that got Starforaday up for the win in the Starter Handicap.
The 4th race was one to focus on due to a horse that I was told would run well named Mother Russia, looking at my program and having my buddy pick out some horses was fun, he missed the superfecta by 1 horse in the first race. Beginner’s luck is something that is so amazing in horse racing. It was great to talk to the guys from trackchampion.com, they were very much handicappers and serious handicappers. We talked about every subject under the sun, Ruffian, Barclay Tagg and his comments about Rachel A, Todd Pletcher and his running of horses into the ground. We even spoke of Quality Roads run in the sloppy Travers and how Zenyatta would fare if she were running at Saratoga. The next few races are a blur due to the time spent walking around the grounds and taking in the scenery and also waiting to see the running of the 7th race. Mr. Rick Porter the owner of Fox Hill Farm has a horse running in this race. His name is Gun Rock and you can believe that this horse will be ready to go; the Fox Hill Farm horses don’t just go out on the track for a workout. Fox Hill Farm horses are quality horses and win a large number of races. Gun Rock does his job for Mr. Porter today and wins the 7th race, I picked the superfecta in the 7th race, not the largest payout but it was a nice confidence builder.
The 8th race came and went, and I was looking forward to the running of the Forego Stakes, another of Fox Hill Farm horses is running in this race, Kodiak Kowboy is a nice sprinter, a horse that doesn’t need to go to the front like the majority of the sprinters that you find out there today, Kodiak allows them to go out and fight each other through testing fractions and then pick up the pieces. Gabriel Saez is the jockey up, the first call for Larry Jones, and speaking of Jones, he is in the process of moving his horses to other barns. This is a very difficult time for all involved to see Mr. Jones step away from the game. Kodiak Kowboy starts slowly today, a bit slower than normal, he’s covered up through the first ½ mile and then he is presented by Saez, he makes a nice run but is beaten today by Pyro. Pyro, wow does anyone remember Pyro, the horse with the extremely quick turn of foot that we saw down at the Fairgrounds in Louisiana. Yes that same Pyro, came charging off the turn, and when he turned it on he was able to out quick Kodiak Kowboy to the wire, he wins by a ½ length. Nice run by the son of Pulpit as he has come back from being given time off to impress.
Rachel the RockStar – Believe me when I say that I’ve seen my fair share of impressive horses, I have seen the likes of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, Borrego, Curlin, Eight Belles, Proud Spell, Flower Alley, Invasor, Bernardini, and others. I have seen how the crowds react and respond to horses of this nature, Grade 1 winner, impressive horses that prove themselves over and over again. Some of these horses could be considered rock stars on a small level, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw as the 9th race ended and the 10th race was preparing to begin. The crowd begins to swell and I am thankful that I am able to be on a rail or gate which leads the horses down the path and to the paddock and walking ring. One by One, they are led down the path, Da’ Tara, Cool Coal Man, Bullsbay, Asiatic Boy, It’s a Bird, Past the Point, Macho Again, and then someone yells, “There she is, Here she comes” and then there is the first moment we’ve all been waiting for. In her usual casual yet very professional style, Rachel Alexandra led by Scott Blasi is led down the path past thousands, and I literally mean thousands of her adoring fans. She’s used to this and its nothing new to her. But it was new to all of us to see a horse that has taken the heart of horse racing and to allow her connections to place that heart directly on her back and say no matter what I am going to impress and I am going to be a champion of champions no matter what Is thrown in front of me.
The Post parade – What a site to see the horses led out to the track and the look of confidence on Calvin Borel’s face, the thought raced through my mind as I made my way back to my seat that we could see a number of different things but the way I approached the race was the same as every race that Curlin ran in. I wanted to see my favorite break well, be allowed to stretch her legs a bit early and get a clear run down the stretch. There was worry in the crowd about race riding and these big boys boxing her in, but my thought was you can’t box what you can’t find. The question is how fast would the early fractions be and how much would that take out of her closing punch, or would Borel want to take a chance and allow her to rate. Its been playing over in my head for days after the post positions were announced. We will see how it plays out and then I hear a gasp from the crowd and Tom Durkin says: “Oh Rachel Alexandra has thrown Calvin Borel off, many thoughts ran through my mind, was she loose how far did she run off or was she the Rachel that I know and did she just stand there and wait for Calvin to climb back into the irons. It’s a great thing that she is as professional as she is because she just stood there and waited for Calvin.
One disaster averted – Calvin Borel is back aboard his filly, she looks like she’s calmed down and is collected again, such a beautiful athlete she is lean but powerful and she is on her toes and she’s ready to go, I am very calm and focused and anticipating the break and now they are finally loaded in the gate.
The race call: Say’s Tom Durkin: “Andddddddddddddddd they’re Off”, good, good I think to myself she didn’t bobble out of the gates like Rags to Riches, she didn’t stand there like I want Revenge, and she got a nice even start, Past the Point wants to do it on the lead again huh, oh wait there is Da’ Tara also, Darn that Nick Zito, his rabbits are in there to do a job, I wonder where Cool Coal Man is, I am sure I’ll hear about him on the lead at some point right. Around the first turn, did Durkin say “Duel” that’s not what I want I want to see her sit second and get that outside 3 wide spot but, yep there he is Cool Coal Man, who would have guessed that. It’s a bird, Bullsbay and Macho Again back there waiting, bidding their time to make a run at the filly, what is that first quarter up in.
The First Quarter went up in, OMG, are you serious, 22 4/5, I put my hands on my head and I think to myself this is what her detractors wanted to see, Rachel on the front being pressed against older horses and folding late, there were smiles im sure by some, but the majority of us in attendance there were some frustrated people. People watching a filly be asked to run the first quarter mile faster than most horses will ever run a ¼ mile in their careers. Now here are my thoughts as they are going down the back stretch, she just put up a 22.85 with pressure the whole way, I see Calvin keep his wits about him, I also see her ears are pricked and she’s going along without effort, not stressing at all, fast enough naturally to put up a first quarter in 22 and change but this tactic is going to play into the boys hands if we don’t slow the pace down some. Now a breather to most horses is a: 24 4/5 or: 25 2/5 quarter mile, but to a horse with the talent of Rachel, I knew that she would get the breather she needed with a flat :24 and that’s what Calvin needed to do, take a slight hold, not cut off her air, but try to nurse out a couple of :24 second quarter mile splits. Da’ Tara still there with her and Past The Point looks like he’s gotten a second quarter breather he’s 1 ½ lengths off her and Cool Coal Man is still there. The next quarter mile split is up, “Yes Calvin, that’s what im talking about” I yell out loud, he milked a :23.56 quarter there to the half mile pole, lets slow it down just a bit more for the 3rd quarter. With just a half mile to go she has a length lead and im comfortable. The third quarter is up, “Yes, Hell yes” I yell :24.13, and she’s relaxed and not fighting and at this point I realize that these boys better have their tap dancing shoes on because with the last two quarter miles that she was able to get a slight and I do mean ever so slight breather, she’s going to be hard to catch in the stretch.
The Dramatic Stretch Drive – Yes, Yes, Yes they are turning for home and I look around and notice that the crowd, everyone in the crowd is on their feet and they realize that we are about to witness something incredible. The closers are coming, the closers are coming, no this is not a war fought with weapons, it’s a war fought with heart and talent and determination, and we will get to see what these older horses are made of, but more importantly what this Super Filly is all about. I see Asiatic Boy and Macho Again, but Bullsbay is coming first, I feel good looking at Calvin he hasn’t asked her yet, oh yeah that’s a good sign. Now they are straightening out, and Calvin asks finally, and wow did Rachel respond, she repelled Bullsbay, he’s hung abit now, maybe due to be told no by the filly. Macho Again, who, oh yeah the son of Macho Uno, yeah I knew he’d be coming, he was 8 lengths off her all the way around, well guess what he’s the fresh horse, and Rachel has had to make every step of the way. My response to Macho Again was bring it on big boy. Rachel must have felt the same way, she could see someone coming, I am not sure who she thought it was, maybe they had a bit of conversation in the paddock or in the starting gate but she was not dismayed. Calvin is asking Rachel and she is responding, she’s put Bullsbay away with ease, but this Macho horse he’s decided he’s going to make her earn it today. Macho Again took a shot, no dice she’s stepping away from him, oh wait he’s coming again, this time he’s not hanging he’s actually making up ground on the filly. Its going to be very very close, I can see she’s tired but she’s laying it down and her stride is lengthening. “Here’s the wire” says Tom Durkin.
Rachel Alexandra wins – Rachel Alexandra the Great, that’s what she will be called now, the final time 1:48:29, that’s and incredible time for a horse that made every call. Dealt with basically a shot from every horse, and won with something left, as she rebroke after the wire and Macho Again never went by her. OMG this place is electric, I can’t feel my hands, and I can’t feel any sensation, people are crying, people are yelling and everyone is celebrating as if they won the race themselves, high fives all around hugs and kisses. This is monumental, the results have been made official, and Calvin Borel has turned the filly around and is bringing her back to the Winner’s Circle. I have to take a moment to collect my thoughts people are grabbing me and jumping up and down and I just have to sit for a moment. Emotion overcomes me, I think back to standing in Oaklawn Park arguing with a guy who wanted to tell me that Stardom Bound was a better horse than Rachel. I think back to posting that winning the Martha Washington and Fair Ground Oaks, and Fantasy without effort means that there is something more to her engine than we’ve ever seen before. I think back to the Oaks where she wins by 20 lengths just in an open gallop. Beating the boys in the Preakness and Romping in the Mother Goose and the Haskell, Are you serious, did this filly actually just beat older horses in this race. I just witnessed history, I put my head in my hands and think to myself, she is amazing, and I’m glad to just be a part of this historic event.
The Appreciation of the crown as Rachel is brought back to the winners circle is something out of a Hollywood story. No one has even thought about leaving the grand stand area or the standing room only area. Please Reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdNdk4AYwSQ. These people are still 10 or 15 deep trying to show their respect for Rachel and what she has just accomplished. The applause and cheers is amazing, she is truly a RockStar. She has shown the heart of a true champion, she has shown she belongs in the conversation of all time great horses, not fillies. She has stepped up to the plate and she swung for the fences and the ball never had a chance. She is Rachel Alexandra, no she is Rachel Alexandra the Great!!!