I guess it was too much to hope for to have Rachel Alexandra retire in a normal manner. Nothing about her retirement makes any sense, with only another rhetoric-filled and oddly timed press release from Jess Jackson to go by.
It looks, at least on the surface, as if Rachel started the year running when she shouldn’t have and ended the year not running when she should have. In short, her entire 4-year-old campaign was backwards. That is, assuming she came out of her last work in good shape, which she supposedly did. So, why, after two bullet six-furlong works following arguably her best race of the year, do you retire her the day after her work and four days before the Beldame?
Yes, she was beaten in the final jumps in the Personal Ensign, but going a mile and a quarter for the first time, being hounded by Life At Ten, one of the top older females in the country, every step of the way and leaving her 10 lengths in her wake, how can anyone feel this wasn’t a step in the right direction and wasn’t going to set her up for a huge performance in the Beldame?
So, what happens? One day after turning in a work that observers felt was nothing short of breathtaking, she is retired.
Why? Because, according to Jackson, she “did not return to her 2009 form,” adding that, “It’s time to retire our champion and reward her with a less stressful life.”
That sounds good, but what does it mean? Did we learn anything at all about why she was retired a day after turning in perhaps her best work of the year?
This is not about the fact that Rachel was retired, it’s about the bizarre circumstances surrounding the announcement. If she showed signs in the work that she wasn’t up to the task of running in the Beldame, fine, say so. Her retirement, although sad, would be understandable.
Jackson stated in the release, “Rachel Alexandra owes us nothing.” He’s certainly right about that. But what about the public? Isn’t the public owed a believable explanation, or any explanation for that matter, why her career ended on such an abrupt note?
Who even knows when trainer Steve Asmussen and assistant Scott Blasi learned of Rachel’s retirement? They certainly weren’t training her like a horse who was never going to race again.
OK, enough of what we don’t know. It is time to discuss what we do know, and that is the fact that Rachel Alexandra is one of the great fillies, certainly one of the greatest 3-year-old fillies, of all time.
In 2009, she:
-- Defeated eight Derby winners (Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Illinois Derby, Tampa Bay Derby, Iowa Derby, and UAE Derby), plus the runner-up in the West Virginia Derby.
-- Defeated eight grade I-winning males, including the winners of the Belmont Stakes (2), Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Whitney, Stephen Foster, Blue Grass, and Secretariat Stakes, in addition to the winners of the Oaklawn Handicap, New Orleans Handicap, Jim Dandy Stakes, Tom Fool Handicap. Woody Stephens Stakes, and Lone Star Handicap.
-- Became the first filly to defeat three classic-winning males, and defeated the 1-2-3 finishers of the Kentucky Derby, the 1-2 finishers of the Whitney , the 1-2 finishers of the Stephen Foster, and the 1-3 finishers of the Belmont Stakes.
Her last six victories all had historical significance.
* Fantasy Stakes -- biggest margin in the history of the race.
* Kentucky Oaks -- biggest margin in the history of the race.
* Preakness -- first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years…first horse in history to win from post 13.
* Mother Goose -- biggest margin in the history of the race, previously held by Ruffian... fastest time in the history of the race.
* Haskell -- second biggest margin in the history of the race…second fastest time in the history of the race by one fifth of a second, and two fifths of a second off the track record set by Spend a Buck 24 years ago.
* Woodward -- first filly in history to win the Woodward.
Even winning the Woodward by a head and the Preakness by one length, her average margin of victory in 2009 was more than eight lengths.
The following horses were demolished by Rachel Alexandra in 2009:
Gabby’s Gold Gal, beaten 29 1/4 lengths by Rachel in the Kentucky Oaks came right back and won the grade I Acorn Stakes in 1:34 3/5.
Flashing, beaten 31 1/2 lengths in the Mother Goose (gr. I), went on to win two grade I stakes – the Test and Gazelle Stakes.
Summer Bird, beaten six lengths in the Haskell (gr. I), went on to win the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Take the Points, beaten 32 3/4 lengths in the Preakness, came back to win two grade I stakes – the Secretariat Stakes and Jamaica Handicap.
Just Jenda, beaten 11 3/4 lengths in the grade II Fantasy Stakes, went on to win the Monmouth Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths and the Serena’s Song Stakes by 8 1/4 lengths.
Bon Jovi Girl, beaten 14 3/4 lengths in the Fantasy Stakes, came back to win the Susan’s Girl Stakes by eight lengths and place in the then grade II Cotillion Stakes and the grade I Gazelle Stakes.
Malibu Prayer, beaten 19 1/4 lengths in the Mother Goose, went on to win the Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs, an overnight stakes at Belmont by 6 3/4 lengths, and finish second in the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) and Monmouth Oaks. This year, she won the grade I Ruffian Handicap.
Past the Point, beaten 17 3/4 lengths in the Woodward, came right back to finish second, beaten a half-length, in the grade III Bold Ruler Stakes.
Although Munnings, beaten seven lengths in the Haskell, did not win a subsequent stakes, he did finish third in the grade I King’s Bishop and Vosburgh over sloppy tracks.
On the other hand, Macho Again, and Bullsbay, both grade I winners, were gutted trying Rachel in that epic Woodward stretch run and were never close to being the same again. And who knows what effect that race had on Rachel the rest of her career? No one can remember a horse giving of them themselves more than Rachel gave of herself that day.
Rachel’s 2010 campaign has been a mess from day one. But it was getting better. Was she even close to the Rachel of 2009? Obviously not, but coming off three strong races, in which she moved forward each time, and her series of brilliant works, wouldn’t it have been logical to see how she ran in the Beldame before making a decision regarding her immediate future. Again, that is assuming she came out of her work in good shape and was sound and acting like a happy horse. If she wasn’t, shouldn’t that have been in the press release? If she was, then didn’t we deserve a more lucid explanation for her retirement than what was given? All we were asking for was closure. And we didn’t get it.