The great RACHEL ALEXANDRA of 2009 — the one that swept through the Kentucky Oaks, the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes en route to Horse of the Year — is no more. She is alive and kicking, she even is running in races, but she is no more.
At least she is not capable of the powerful displays of speed and determination we saw from her in all of her eight starts last year.
Facing multiple stakes winning LIFE AT TEN and her first ever attempt at 1-1/4 miles in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Sunday, Rachel did manage to beat Life At Ten in their private speed duel, but wilted badly in the final 1/16 miles and was caught from behind by the moderately accomplished 4-year-old filly PERSISTENTLY.
"The pace duel hurt us," said jockey Calvin Borel. "When we turned into the stretch with the lead, she did not accelerate like I thought she would and I was worried if there was something coming from behind."
There was. Her name was Persistently, a filly owned by the Phipps family and trained by Shug McGaughey, the same connections who raced undefeated Personal Ensign more than 20 years ago.
Last year none of this would have mattered. This year, the results of the Personal Ensign coupled with two early season defeats, clearly indicate that Rachel Alexandra paid a price for her adventurous 2009 campaign. She is not the same horse.
Fact is, owner Jess Jackson should realize that there is nothing to be gained by running Rachel Alexandra any further. She can not realistically go on to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at 1-1/4 miles, and there would be little to gain pointing for the nine furlong $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. Frankly, if the decision were to be made by her many thousands of fans, Rachel would be retired by the time you read this.
Post Travers Stakes Analysis, Pacific Classic & Pat O'Brien Notes
Having said all that…here are some short takes on some of the most significant happenings in the Travers Stakes and the Pacific Classic, the two million-dollar races that were on center stage at Saratoga and Del Mar the day before Rachel suffered her third defeat in five races this year.
Kentucky Derby winner SUPER SAVER and ICE BOX, who was a much troubled second-place at Churchill Downs on May 1, were never in contention in the 1-1/4 mile Travers, finishing 10th and 8th respectively as if they have seen their best days at this level of competition.
AFLEET EXPRESS, however, a colt who missed the 2010 Triple Crown, won the 141st Travers by the slimmest of nose margins over FLY DOWN. He won it with a pluperfect rail hugging ride from Javier Castellano, who rallied his mount to a clear lead in the upper stretch before holding off a wide running Fly Down in a race that was a millimeter shy of a dead heat.
FIRST DUDE, a gallant second to LOOKIN AT LUCKY in the Preakness, held third in the Travers and is proving to be the most resilient of the 2010 Triple crown participants. The fifth place performance by A LITTLE WARM strongly suggested that his prep race victory in the Jim Dandy may have been the peak performance of his 3-year-old season.
Lukewarm $3.90-1 betting favorite TRAPPE SHOT faded badly through the final 3/8 miles to finish 9TH and a similar fate occurred to the highly publicized maiden winner, ADMIRAL ALEX, who finished last and was inappropriately bet down to $11.30-1 when he probably should have been 30-1 or higher.
At Del Mar, it was an encore performance for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and the 2009 Pacific Classic winner, RICHARD'S KID.
"He felt the same to me this time as he did last year," Smith said referring to Richard Kid's repeat score on Saturday in the $1 Million, 1-1/4 mile race. Euro import CROWDED HOUSE was second in his second American outing, DAKOTA PHONE and BATTLE OF HASTINGS were third and fourth, while betting favorite, THE USUAL Q.T. finished fifth after failing to convert his hard hitting turf form to the synthetic Polytrack.
The Baffert trained EL BRUJO won the 7 furlong $300,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes on the Pacific Classic undercard, but the horse to watch is CROWN OF THORNS, who finished a strong second in his first start since losing a photo in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last year.
"I've always thought he'd do well going farther," said trainer Dick Mandella. "So this year we'll go from here to the (1-1/8 mile) Goodwood at Oak Tree (as a prep), instead of keeping him sprinting."