The morning after it was announced that powerhouse filly Rachel Alexandra had been sold to Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick, trainer Hal Wiggins went about his business as usual, in spite of the empty stall where the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner used to reside.
“Being the trainer, I have mixed emotions,” Wiggins said of the filly, who was transported to stall 24 of her new conditioner Steve Asmussen’s barn at about 5:15 a.m. EDT May 7 at Churchill Downs. “I know she’ll make her new owners happy. We had her for a year and she never left our barn, so it’s tough, but we’ll get back into our same routine.
"My wife was upset, but I told her we could have sold her before the Oaks. We were fortunate to have had her as long as we did.”
Wiggins said there were several offers made for Rachel Alexandra last fall and winter, including one from IEAH Stables, which vetted her for $1.2 million but decided not to close the deal because the filly had a small ankle chip. Wiggins thought the possibility of Rachel Alexandra being sold had passed, but a few days after he saddled her to victory for the biggest feat of her career, he received a call from co-owner/breeder Dolphus Morrison that changed everything.
“With all the hoopla with the Oaks, my mind was somewhere else, and it never entered my mind she would be sold afterwards," Wiggins said. "Then the night before last, I got a call from the owner, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve got something working, and they’re going to be by in the morning to take a look at her.’ So that was the first time I had any inclination that anything was going on.”
Morrison, who said he was flooded with offers following the filly's record-setting 20 1/4–length Oaks triumph, called the final deal a “tough decision,” but one he couldn’t refuse. A commercial breeder, Morrison said he would have sold Rachel Alexandra as a weanling in the 2006 Keeneland November sale, but withdrew her and decided to race her instead when he figured she wouldn’t bring what she was worth.
“I used to have a lot of mares, and don’t have many now,” Morrison said. “I’m getting up there in years, and it was time for me to cut back a couple years ago."
“(Stonestreet Stables) has great facilities, they’ve got a bunch of real good mares, and they’ve got Curlin,” Morrison said of the two-time Horse of the Year who will be bred to Rachel Alexandra after she retires, according to a release. “(Rachel Alexandra) is one step away from not being a racehorse anymore, and that’s the way this business goes. (Jackson) was pretty aggressive (in the transaction), but I held my ground, and I’m satisfied with our deal.”
Wiggins said he's confident the filly is in capable hands. “There’s no question in my mind—Steve has handled champions before, and he knows how to train a horse, and I have no doubt she’s going to be well taken care of,” he said. “He knows what to do with a good horse, so I feel confident about where she is.”
Though it has not been confirmed that Rachel Alexandra will race in the May 16 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course against the boys, Wiggins said he's fairly confident the Medaglia d'Oro filly will be in the starting gate.
“I’d be very surprised if she was not in there,” Wiggins said. “That’s just my opinion—I haven’t heard what they’re going to do, but I’d be surprised, because (the deal) went so fast that I think they had something in mind. She’ll have to be supplemented, though, and if it’s an over-filled race, the supplemented horses have the last shot to get in.
“If they want her to run there, then I hope she gets in and runs just like she always has.”
Wiggins said he recently spoke with Jackson’s bloodstock agent, John Moynihan, who indicated that if Rachel Alexandra does run in the Preakness, jockey Calvin Borel could take the mount on the filly instead of Mine That Bird, who he piloted to an upset victory in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Wiggins also heard that jockey Mike Smith, who won the Derby aboard longshot Giacomo in 2005, could be the replacement rider for Mine That Bird.
“My wife was hurt (when she heard Rachel Alexandra was sold), because she knew it was hurting me,” Wiggins said. “I talked to her this morning, and I told her the sun was going to rise just like it does every morning. Time does a whole lot no matter what it is, and we have a lot to be thankful for, so we keep thinking about that.
“When you walk by and see that empty stall, you can’t help but think what was in there. It’s tough—it’s hard, but that’s just part of the game, and we have to realize that,. But we did have some great times with her, so we’re appreciative of that.”