The Sound of a Crowd

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 immortalize adequately.

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 million strong.

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.


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