It didn’t take long for the “Retire Rachel” cries to be heard. I can’t really criticize those who believe Rachel’s reputation has suffered, and feel each race compromises her legacy. If you are of the opinion that every defeat to lesser opponents dims Rachel’s remarkable accomplishments last year, it shows more than anything you are a fan and admirer of the filly and want her to bow out gracefully now before her farewell to the racetrack descends to a whimper.
There are glaring facts that indicate Rachel will not be up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic test, facing the likes of Zenyatta, Blame, Quality Road, and Lookin At Lucky. If Life At Ten was able to soften her up to the extent where she could not come home her final quarter quicker than :27 1/5, she will not want any part of a bruiser like Quality Road breathing down her neck. It's perfectly reasonable to knock the final quarter, but if you, it's only fair to also knock the :26 3/5 final quarter in the Travers, the :13 3/5 final eighth in the King's Bishop, and the :13 1/5 final eighth in the Ballerina. And the last two were even more glaring in a way coming in grade I sprints.
But if you think Rachel’s fire has lessened or been extinguished, let’s not forget she ran Life At Ten, a towering, powerhouse of a filly who was coming off six straight wins, including the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap, into the ground, leaving her 10 1/4 lengths in her wake. Yes, it did take its toll, but let’s not think the spirit and the fight no longer are there.
Another glaring fact is that Queen Martha, the filly who gave Rachel a run for her money in the Lady’s Secret, came back and was beaten more than 16 lengths in Sunday’s Molly Pitcher at 7-2. If you want to look at that through a half-full glass, perhaps that effort gutted Queen Martha, the way Macho Again and Bullsbay fell apart after testing Rachel last year, as did Zardana this year. And certainly Life At Ten looked gutted at the end of the Personal Ensign.
Now, if you feel the Classic’s distance is beyond Rachel’s scope, there is nothing wrong with her connections admitting that and pointing for the Distaff (now known as the Ladies Classic). It is not a reflection of her ability and should not be considered lowering herself to a level not worthy of a defending Horse of the Year. There have been many great fillies who did not and could not win at 1 1/4 miles. And most of those who did won the Alabama, a race Rachel would have laughed her way through had she not been busy beating up on colts in the Woodward Stakes.
If they do decide to continue on the road to the Classic, remember, getting beat in that race didn’t lessen Azeri’s legacy and didn’t prevent her from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. And Azeri finished a well-beaten fifth to top-class horses such as Ghostzapper, Roses in May, and Pleasantly Perfect.
On July 2, I wrote the following in this blog:
“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, 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.
“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.
“With Rachel taking so long to come back to anything even resembling 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.”
So, before we get ready to send Rachel out to pasture, let’s see how she runs in the Beldame over what promises to be classy competitive field. Then a decision can be made which Breeders’ Cup race they decide on. If she gets beat again, then perhaps we can start preparing for her retirement.
But until then, let’s not be in such a rush to send the reigning Queen to exile. So, she’s not the Rachel of last year. Perhaps no one ever will be the Rachel of last year. Let’s remember that Rachel did not go into last year with such a grueling, ambitious campaign behind her. She did not go into last year having to remain dormant for five months without a workout. She did not go into last year having whatever problem that caused her to be inactive for so long. She did not go into last year having been subjected to one of the most gut-wrenching efforts by any filly in the history of the sport. And she did not go into last year having to be rushed back before she was ready to meet an undefeated superstar before she was even close to being ready. The hasty attempt to get her back to that competitive a level failed and her connections have been playing catch-up ever since. Who knows what kind of campaign Rachel would have had if she had debuted in the La Troienne on April 30 instead being rushed into a concocted race on March 13.
Between the experimenting trying to get her to rate and with her perhaps not being mentally and even physically ready to compete that early in the year Rachel simply has not been able to move forward off her other-worldly 2009 campaign or even maintain it. But that doesn’t mean the fire to compete isn’t burning inside her. She demonstrated that fire in the opening mile of the Personal Ensign.
Rachel vs. Zenyatta has all but faded into a distant Pollyanna wish that could now only become a reality in the Classic.
But their first meeting should have been in a filly race, where all the focus would have been on them, and not in a race of the magnitude of the Classic, where they would be only part of a larger picture. But if that’s the only avenue remaining, then let’s embrace it, because it will surely bring this year’s Breeders’ Cup into national focus.
As a side note, Rachel’s defeats, for whatever reasons, should make us all appreciate the magnitude of what Zenyatta has been able to accomplish by going undefeated in 18 starts. As we've seen. there are so many ways to lose a race. On the other hand, Rachel’s overall career should not be measured against such an amazing feat. She made her own magic last year and that will never be diminished by her defeats this year.
So, the bottom line is, Rachel’s defeat in the Personal Ensign, although extremely disappointing, should in the long run be looked upon as just that – a defeat, and not as an indication that she no longer should be competing. If she shows any physical or mental signs coming out of the Personal Ensign that she has had enough, then by all means retire her. But if she is sound and that passion is still evident, there is no reason not to put the sword in her hand again and see if she can recapture the glory of last year – at her distance. And then take it from there. Rachel deserves the chance to hear the grandstand rock one last time, and her devoted fans should be given the chance to send her off with all the fanfare she deserves.