There has been quite an uproar over the announcement that Rachel Alexandra will run in the non-graded Lady’s Secret Stakes instead of the grade I Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga the following week.
Although one can only speculate what their thinking is, here are some possibilities, going so far as to look ahead and coming up with a possible schedule leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
First off, unlike many people, I was not of the opinion that Rachel Alexandra showed in the Fleur de Lis that she is back, or even close to being back, to the Rachel of last year, and I stated all my reasons in a recent blog – briefly, the head cocking and the drifting in the stretch, and just not appearing as dominant and in control as she was last year. And the filly she defeated by 10 ½ lengths, she had defeated by 13 lengths in her losing effort the race before. Was it a major step in the right direction? Definitely.
Let’s also remember, this is a filly who, for whatever reason, did not have a workout in five months. Who knows what kind of metamorphosis she went through during such a long period of inactivity? It is often difficult getting fillies back to where they once were after a long layoff.
With this decision, Steve Asmussen and Jess Jackson apparently also feel she is not yet back to where she was last year and is not ready for the Ruffian. Rachel lost her first two starts this year against fillies she likely would have annihilated last year. Now that she has gotten back on track and heading in the right direction, do they really want to risk setting her back by jumping into a grade I stakes and having to give weight to some top-class fillies? The Lady’s Secret gives her another chance to move forward, keep her confidence level high, and work out some of the kinks she displayed in the Fleur de Lis. If she should get beat, the thinking would be, if she lost this race she surely would have lost the Ruffian.
Ok, so let’s assume Rachel wins the Lady’s Secret impressively and runs a more professional race and looks as dominant as she did last year. Does that mean she’s back to where she was last year or even close to it? Of course not. One wouldn’t think that is the purpose of running in the Lady’s Secret. It would be to get another impressive victory in her and smooth out the rough edges.
So, what would be the next step after the Lady’s Secret? That depends on which Breeders’ Cup race they are pointing for. Let’s assume it is the Classic. Again, this is all speculation, but here is a possible scenario to reach that goal.
Whether Rachel ran in the Ruffian or waited for another race to make her 2010 grade I debut, there is a fairly good possibility she is going to get beat somewhere along the way because of all the catching up she’s had to do. Somewhere she is going to have to make a big jump in class. The Ruffian isn’t that spot, not under handicap conditions and having lost two of her last three starts. The Personal Ensign conceivably could be that spot. First off, she would have five weeks to that race instead of four had she run in the Ruffian. Second, although it would be a difficult task stretching out to 1 1/4 miles from 1 1/16 miles, the race would at least provide a strong foundation and get a 10-furlong race into her, which she would need in the Classic, having never been that far. So, even if she finished second and ran a big race, similar to the race Azeri ran in the 2004 Personal Ensign, when she set fast fractions and couldn’t hold off Storm Flag Flying, it would help move her forward from a toughness and fitness standpoint.
Forget the Woodward. She’d likely have to face better horses than last year, and look what that gut-wrencher did to her, as well as the two colts – Macho Again and Bullsbay -- who chased her home down the stretch.
With the Personal Ensign under her belt she can head to the Beldame over the same track and distance as the Mother Goose, where she turned in one of the most brilliant performances of her career. Only then would we see the real Rachel Alexandra emerge, and only then could we expect to see a performance like we saw on so many occasions last year.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup would be another possibility, but do they really want to run her against Quality Road before the Breeders’ Cup? The field would be smaller and she would not have as many top-class colts to worry about, but she could hardly be expected to be in championship form off one grade I race. But the option is there, depending on what she did in her previous start.
By Rachel taking so long to come back to her old self, Horse of the Year shouldn’t even be in the thought process. It’s all about getting ready for the Breeders’ Cup and letting the championships sort themselves out.
If we do see the same Rachel as last year in the Beldame, and with a mile and a quarter race under her belt, and having won three of her last four starts, then she can return home to Churchill Downs and have a legitimate shot in the Classic.
Of course, none of this could be running through Asmussen’s and Jackson’s mind. They could have something totally different in mind. But considering they haven’t explained their decision to run in the Lady’s Secret in clear and simple terms, one can only speculate as to what their thinking was and try to come up with possible scenarios for the rest of the year.
This merely has been one of them.