With all the buzz surrounding Rachel Alexandra's sparkling win in last weekend's Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Hal Wiggins. Though the veteran trainer did not say his talented filly would be pointed towards a Derby run, he definitely left the door open.
I'm not sure what to make of Rachel Alexandra yet. Her last two wins were eye-catching, but personally I would like to see her win the FG Oaks convincingly before they decided on a Triple Crown run. But one thing is for sure, if she does make the Derby starting gate I will be rooting for her. Just for the simple fact that Wiggins is one of the nicest, down-to-earth and forthcoming trainers we have in the game today. In a way, he is a lot like Larry Jones, only instead being of a Kentucky guy, he's a good ol' Texan.
JS: With all the exceptional performances over the weekend, it seems that Rachel Alexandra's sensational run in the Martha Washington was right at the top of the list. I know from talking with you after the Golden Rod you have always like this filly. But was her performance at Oaklawn a surprise even to you?
HW: It really was. For her to do what she did off a two and a half month layoff was tremendous. She really answered a lot of questions for us very quickly. We certainly know where we are right now.
JS: Her final time of 1:36 2/5 was a full second faster than what Old Fashioned ran one race later. That alone was impressive, but what was it that raised your eyebrows the most?
HW: Well, you're right, the final time was surprising, but there were other things. First, Calvin (Borel) never even pressured her down the lane once she got going. He said he just sat on her and never moved. That is a good sign. Also, her final eighth was better than the boys and considering how she came in, that was impressive.
JS: Speaking of the boys, everyone wants to know if you are now considering her for the Derby rather than the Oaks. Have you talked about it with the owners yet?
HW: It has certainly entered our minds now. That's the second race in a row where she ran a better time than the colts (Golden Rod was the other) and did it by a full second. Now, that doesn't mean if she lined up in the gate against the boys she could do again. Honestly, we haven't talked about it a whole lot yet but we will in the next two to three days. Right now the plan is the Honeybee (on March 15th) at Oaklawn or the Fair Grounds Oaks (on March 14th). I'm guessing that the Rebel (on March 14th) will enter our discussions now too, but we're not there yet.
JS: Any particular way you're leaning right now?
HW: Well, the money always becomes a factor and the (Fair Grounds) Oaks carries a bigger pot ($400,000 compared to Honeybee at $100,000). But we'll just have to see.
JS: With Rachel Alexandra, Stardom Bound and even Evita Argentina's great win last weekend, a lot of people are talking how the top fillies might be every bit as good as the top colts this year. What are your thoughts on that?
HW: Well, some of the colts may still step forward a bunch here in the next month or two. There is still a lot of time. But it is exciting for the sport to have these nice fillies. Generally, you know, I think fillies should run against each other, but every once in a while you have a Winning Colors or Genuine Risk that deserve a chance against the colts. It might be one of those years.
JS: You have been around this game for a long time but have never had a prominent Kentucky Derby contender. If Rachel Alexandra becomes that, how ironic would it be that your first one is with a filly?
HW: It is kind of funny. You go to these sales always looking for a colt who can take you to the Derby. To have a special filly like this is fun. She has certainly given us some options and that is always nice.
JS: The owners (Mike Lauffer and Dolphus Morrison) have also been around for a while without the big Triple Crown horse. Do they have Derby fever?
HW: No. Mr. Morrison makes all the decisions and he is very level-headed. Even before the Triple Crown nominations he said it is very hard to race these fillies against the colts. Of course, that was before this last race. But he is pretty conservative and always does what's best for the horse. We'll sit down and talk and consider our options, but he is a level-headed man.
JS: I'm assuming there were some substantial offers for Rachel Alexandra after the Martha Washington win?
HW: Oh yeah. My phone lit up all of Monday and so were the owners' phones. I don't know all the figures but there were some pretty substantial offers. The thing is though, these owners are in this game to race. They aren't looking to sell. Now, if the offers got to be so big that you had a hard time turning them down, then things might change. But right now they are happy to have this filly.