At 5:48 pm, in the split-iest of seconds, Rachel Alexandra
almost sabotaged the greatest spectacle that many of the 31,171 fans at Saratoga
Race Course on Saturday will ever witness.
Spooked by the exuberant crowd, the First Lady of Horse Racing
twisted and reared, threw her rider Calvin Borel from the saddle and broke free
from his grasp and the outrider's.
Luckily, the cool-headed jockey managed to take hold of the dangling
lead and drew her to him before the thought of running off crossed her mind.
The scene played out as Bernardini's parade to the post in
the 2006 Travers. Only, this time
around, instead of a runaway victory, it prefaced a photo finish that shook the
grandstand, awakened the ghosts of Saratoga
past and became one of those indelible moments that even history won't
How ironic that the meet's last hurrah came down to a head between
a female that took on males and a horse named Macho Again. When owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve
Asmussen announced that the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra would race in the
Woodward Stakes - a contest for handicap horses, their critics were assailing
the decision as the easy way out.
Saturday's tenth race proved that even with a 1-4 shot, Murphy's
lesser-known rule applies - "Things don't happen until they do."
Upon crossing the finish line, Borel pointed emphatically to
his mount as if telling the world that she had won and she was undoubtedly the
best. But those antics won't live in
people's minds as much as the noise that broke out. The sound of the crowd was the sound of a
There were two press conferences following the Woodward
Stakes. The first featured owners
Jackson and Harold McCormick and Asmussen and his three well-behaved sons,
Keith, Darren and Eric, nattily dressed in matching suits of railroad men's
seersucker. The second featured Calvin Borel, wearing underwear.
In the company of his owners and family, Asmussen was
genial; in fact, beaming. He asked
reporters to write about what happened instead of what might happen next. No writer, of course, heeded Asmussen's
request. Borel said the trainer warned
him to save something for the last 40 to 50 yards, that his filly would be a
little fresh from a switch in her training caused by weather.
Earlier in the day, two horses purchased at auction for $1.5
million failed to finish in the money.
In winning the fifth, Stately Victor made money for horseplayers named
Vic. Pyro, a son of Pulpit, solidified
his status as a future sire by snagging the 7-furlong grade I Forego. It seems as though he has re-discovered his
former brilliance in sprinting.
The jockeys wore two badges on their boots to identify their
support for their injured colleague Michael Straight and the Permanently
Disabled Jockeys Fund. In the evening,
they sold autographed photos at Impressions to add to the effort. Surrounding them on Broadway, the town rocked
with its Final Stretch weekend.