Rachel Alexandra is one of those Thoroughbreds that capture the spirit of the sport along with the admiration and devoted fan following that is associated with greatness. Rachel has it all, beauty, class, speed, heart, intelligence and that one intangible that eludes many, charisma. She draws your attention.
In recent times, Rachel Alexandra has become one of the most photographed and written about horses in the world. There have been many articles penned by the best writers in the industry, and pictorial essays from the top photographers of equines documenting her life. So this article will not break any new ground, or for that fact introduce any new news items, but I will try to encapsulate her life and accomplishments here because the point of this web-site is to honour the greats, and Rachel Alexandra was definitely great.
Rachel Alexandra was bred in 2006 by Dolphus Morrison in Kentucky. She was named in honour of Morrison’s granddaughter. Sired by Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro, Rachel Alexandra was the first foal from her dam Lotta Kim by Roar.
Medaglia d’Oro has become one of the best sires of his generation standing at Darley’s Jonabell Farm just west of Lexington. On the race track Medaglia d’Oro won eight of seventeen races and placed in seven more. As well as his Travers win, Medaglia d’Oro won the grade one Whitney and Donn Handicaps, grade two San Felipe, Jim Dandy, and Strub Stakes, and the Oaklawn Handicap. Six of his second place finishes came in the grade one races. The Dubai World Cup, Wood Memorial, Belmont Stakes, Pacific Classic and twice in the Breeder’s Cup Classic are the races Medaglia d’Oro was so close to winning. These are some of the premier races in the world. Today, the attractive and successful stallion commands a $200,000 stud fee, and eager breeders are nominating their top mares for his services.
Lotta Kim won two of her four races on the track, with a pair of seconds completing her résumé. She took the one mile Tiffany Lass Stakes as a three year old and finished second in the grade two Golden Rod Stakes during her juvenile season. Her sire Roar was a multiple graded stakes winner bred by Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and was sired by Forty Niner out of the exceptional racer and broodmare Wild Applause by Northern Dancer. This tail female line descends from the incomparable La Troienne, one of the all time great broodmares in turf history.
The first thing noticed with the filly Lotta Kim produced was her unique facial markings. A white half moon on her forehead is complimented with a white unattached stripe that thins toward her left nostril. These markings distinctly identify her in the countless photos of her beautiful head. Rachel Alexandra has a gorgeous bay colour, inherited from her father, and a powerful build. She has two white socks and a disposition that is as calm as could possibly be for a race horse, which was another inheritance from Medaglia d’Oro because Lotta Kim was generally a moody sort. She was also a bit on the scrawny side, prompting Morrison to consider selling her when Rachel was a weanling. However he scratched her from the Keeneland November sale when X-Rays showed a minor problem.
As Rachel developed, she began to exhibit her talent. Jimmy Dodwell broke her to saddle and told Morrison that he may want to keep this one. Morrison headed the advice, which as it turned out, became the best advice he ever received in racing.
Rachel Alexandra made her racing début on May 22, 2008 in a four and one-half furlong maiden event. She finished sixth. Three weeks later at the same track she broke her maiden in a similar five furlong event. Two weeks after this, Rachel entered stakes company and finished second to Garden District in the grade three Debutante Stakes, also at Churchill Downs. Her trainer Hal Wiggins let her down until October 17 for the Keeneland fall meet. Rachel won a six furlong allowance race and then it was back to Churchill for the one mile Pocahontas Stakes. She finished second to Sara Louise.
Wiggins then employed Calvin Borel to ride Rachel Alexandra. The jockey had worked her in some morning training and got know how she liked to conduct her racing. For the Golden Rod Stakes four weeks after her latest outing, Borel let Rachel dictate the pace and she won her first stakes race with a wire to wire performance in the eight and one-half furlong grade two event, defeating Sara Louise. This was her final juvenile race, having never left Kentucky. Rachel in the following year would become a traveller to many states as she began her assault on records and enter the bright spotlight of the racing world.
February 15, 2009 at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas was the site for Rachel’s seasonal début. The one mile Martha Washington Stakes was run in a good time of 1:36.20 with Rachel Alexandra across the line ten lengths ahead of the field. One month later at Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Rachel captured the grade two Fair Grounds Oaks over a sloppy track, again well clear of her pursuers. Back to Oaklawn for another grade two race, the Fantasy Stakes, which our heroine duly won, by pulverizing her opponents. Next up was the Kentucky Oaks, back at her home state.
Rachel Alexandra sat just off the pace set by Gabby’s Golden Girl in the Oaks until the turn for home. Borel then asked Rachel for her run and run she did. Taking over the lead midway through the turn, Rachel Alexandra proceeded to pull away from the others and in the process of running a 12 second last quarter mile won the Kentucky Oaks by an astonishing 20 lengths. It is the longest margin of victory in the history of the race, and is the third fastest time recorded in this historic event. Only Bird Town in 2003 and Untapable in 2014 have run the race faster.
The Kentucky Oaks victory thrust Rachel Alexandra into the main stream media and a new starlet of the turf was uncovered. Such an eye popping performance will do that. Dolphus Morrison was approached by Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables and received an offer he could not refuse. Morrison sold Rachel Alexandra for an undisclosed price to the partnership of Stonestreet and Harold McCormick. While the price was never officially released, it must have been a substantial amount of money for Morrison to part with such a remarkable filly. There were reports of upward of eight to ten million dollars exchanging hands. Rachel Alexandra would now compete in the yellow and red colours of Stonestreet Stables from the barn of Steve Asmussen.
The new connections boldly decided that Rachel’s next race would be the Preakness Stakes, second jewel of the Triple Crown, instead of a more traditional race such as the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. No filly had won the Preakness since Nellie Morse accomplished the feat eighty-five years previous. Very few fillies even tried during this time. Asmussen wanted to keep Calvin Borel as Rachel Alexandra’s rider, which gave the jockey a tough decision. Borel had piloted Mine That Bird to a stunning upset victory in the Kentucky Derby, as a 50/1 outsider, and that horse was also entered in the Preakness. Borel decided to stay with Rachel and so Mike Smith was hired by Double Eagle Ranch to ride Mine That Bird.
Entering the outside stall as the 8/5 race favourite, Rachel Alexandra burst from the thirteenth post position and vied for the lead into the first turn. She took the lead around the turn on the outside, three to four lanes from the rail, cutting a rapid 46:3/5 opening half mile. Borel let Rachel run along the back straight and she was a full three lengths clear of the pack as she entered the home stretch at Pimlico. Still well off the rail, Rachel displayed her iron will and class to the racing world when she defended her lead to wire, holding off a late surging Mine That Bird by a length at the finish post.
A few firsts were established in this race. Rachel Alexandra became the first winner to start on the outside of the field and also became the first winner to start from the thirteenth post position. Calvin Borel became the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes with two different horses in the same year. To add to Rachel being the first filly since Nellie Morse to win, she was also the first filly to win as the favourite since Whimsical had done so in 1906.
A national TV audience watched the race on NBC and, if she wasn’t a household name before, Rachel Alexandra was certainly one now. During the post race interview as Borel led Rachel to the winner’s circle, he said “She is the greatest horse I have ever been on in my life”.
The next time we got to see her in action came six weeks later on June 26, 2009, at Belmont Park. The race she entered was the Mother Goose Stakes, an important grade one race for three year old fillies. In the race Rachel sat a few lengths off the pace from the leaders Malibu Prayer and Flashing. These were the only two fillies brave enough to take her on in the race. A scorching 1:08.86 for the first six furlongs gave her ample speed to run down. Midway through the turn for home Borel sent Rachel to the leaders. She split the two as she streaked by and essentially the race was decided at that moment. The only question remaining was how much of an advantage would Rachel Alexandra have at the finish line.
Rachel Alexandra continued her momentum as she drew away to a record shattering 19 ¼ length victory. She had done the first mile in a scintillating 1:33.60 and, although Borel was powering her down in the final sixteenth, she crossed the line in 1:46.33, less than a second slower than Secretariat’s thirty-six year old track record for the nine furlong distance. Rachel’s margin of victory was six lengths better than the immortal Ruffian in the same race.
Next up for Rachel Alexandra was the Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park. The race carried a substantial purse of $1.25 million and drew a deep field of quality three year olds in training. 37,090 fans come out to see Rachel Alexandra on a dreary weather day, and bet her down to 1/2 on the tote board. When she appeared on the track for the post parade, the roar of the crowd was similar to when a rock star first appears on stage for a concert. Another roar came when track announcer Larry Colmus introduced her in the post parade. There would be more resounding cheers to come for the crowd to show their love for Rachel to come this day.
Again she stalked the early pace setters, this time being Munnings and Summer Bird, along the back straight. As they entered the final turn, Borel asked Rachel to go, and go she did. Sweeping past the front two on the outside, Rachel Alexandra led by three lengths at the top of the stretch, and increased her advantage over the sloppy track to a six length victory at the finish post. Her time of 1:47.21 was only one fifth of a second off the stakes record and two fifths of a second short of the track record. Rachel earned a 116 Beyer speed rating for her effort, which was not topped in any other race that year. The crowd erupted as she crossed the finish line in complete command and then again when she returned to the winner’s circle. The crowd had seen what they came to see.
Rachel Alexandra was not done there. One month later she would run what most racing experts consider to be her finest performance. Hard to imagine after what she had already accomplished leading up to this race, the Woodward Stakes at the grand lady of racing Saratoga. For the first time Rachel was asked to race against older horses, but not just females. She was going to face older males in this race. She would be tested like no other in the race, and Rachel responded.
Saratoga was bursting at the seams with humanity on September 5, 2009. They came in droves to watch and cheer Rachel Alexandra. Saratoga has seen many of the greats of the turf perform brilliantly, and also seen many greats succumb to defeat as well. One never knows what can happen at the spa, which adds to the excitement of the races. Eight worthy Thoroughbreds entered the starting gate for the Woodward, with Rachel slotted in post position three.
From the off Rachel Alexandra was full of run and went for the lead going into the first turn. After duelling with speed horse Da’ Tara inside her around the first turn, Rachel took the lead entering the back straight. She ran the first quarter mile in a blistering 22.85, which prompted track announcer Tom Durkin to exclaim “There will be no free ride for Rachel Alexandra! They are making her work for every step today”. Rachel continued to lead the boys along the back straight with Da’ Tara, Pass The Point and Cool Coal Man right on her.
Through the turn for home Pass The Point challenged, then faded. Next came Bullsbay for his challenge. Rachel repelled him. Down the stretch came the challenge of Macho Again, who was storming down the outside. Rachel Alexandra found more in her tank and held off this formidable challenger. As they crossed the finish line a head apart, Durkin in utter excitement said “Rachel won! She is indeed Rachel Alexandra the Great!”
The old grandstand at Saratoga literally rocked with the volume of cheering and encouragement as the race reached its crescendo at the wire. Then the deafening roar was increased when Borel led Rachel back in front of the grandstand to the winner’s circle. Thousands of race fans had just witnessed one of the most extraordinary performances in racing history, and they knew it. On a scale like Secretariat’s Belmont, Personal Ensign’s Breeder’s Cup and Kelso’s Washington International, Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward will stick in the minds of those that were there, and those that have watched the replay on video. There are no words in the English language that can describe such performances.
That would be Rachel’s final race in 2009. She won the Eclipse Award as Champion Three Year Old Filly, a no brainer, and also as Horse of the Year. She won all eight of her races either in domination or displaying her astounding courage. Her 2009 season was one for the ages, which would be hard pressed to be duplicated by another Thoroughbred.
Rachel Alexandra came back the next year for five more races. She won twice and finished second three times, all races being stakes races. Although she displayed her class in each event, she was just not quite the same. Many have pointed out that her Woodward took so much out of her that she had left the best of herself on the Saratoga track that day. Her four year old campaign was not a disgrace by any means, just not as memorable. Rachel Alexandra’s race record in numbers stands at 19-13-5-0. She only finished off the board in her first race at four and one-half furlongs when she was learning her craft. Rachel won ten consecutive races which showed us who she truly was as a race horse.
Her remarkable racing accomplishments brought her to the forefront of national admiration, which preceded her entry into the broodmare ranks. She has had, as we all know, a difficult time with motherhood, and has been retired from breeding. Rachel Alexandra has two children, a son named Jess’s Dream sired by Curlin, and a daughter named Rachel’s Valentina sired by Bernardini.
Jess’s Dream made one start, winning a maiden special weight race at Saratoga when he was three years old. He now stands stud at Ocala Stud in Florida. Rachel’s Valentina however ran six times, winning twice and placing second twice. She captured the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga, which was run exactly six years to the day after her mother’s historic Woodward victory. Rachel’s Valentina also placed second in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies to champion Songbird, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro.
The birth of her daughter put Rachel Alexandra in serious condition when it was discovered that she had a damaged colon. Her filly was a large 140 lbs foal, which caused Rachel Alexandra great suffering. She was rushed to Rood & Riddle Veterinary Clinic for surgery, which lasted six hours. Her type of injury has very few survivors. Her colon was ruptured and fecal matter was found in her abdomen. When the public was informed of the grave situation, Rachel was again in the minds of her fans. Social media blew up with heartfelt prayers for Rachel’s survival. It was touch and go for many months following the surgery, but Rachel Alexandra did survive.
Stonestreet announced to a grateful fan base that they would not breed Rachel again, for fear of risking her health, or even her life. A national treasure such as she deserves to be treated with such dignity and not put into a scenario that can harm her or shorten her life just for the sake of greed.
Today Rachel Alexandra lives the life of a Queen. She is healthy and happy at Stonestreet Farm and receives her share of visitors. Rachel radiates beauty from every pore of her being. On the race track she was supreme. She had more courage in one hoof than most horses have in their entire soul. She again displayed her courage in the face of her greatest triumph, not the Woodward but her triumph to survive when the odds her making it were heavily against her. Rachel Alexandra came out the other end of this test to her bravery with flying colours.
Rachel Alexandra, beautiful, classy, talented and one of the most courageous Thoroughbreds we will ever see.
(Photo courtesy of Johnathan Palmer/NY Times)
(Second photo – Rachel Alexandra with her son Jess’s Dream courtesy of Matt Goins)