All year, it has been the opinion here that Rachel Alexandra has not performed anywhere near her level of last year and that she had several issues that needed to be worked out.
That is what made the Lady’s Secret Stakes on July 24 so important. It had nothing to do with winning by 20 lengths and setting records. It was more about ironing out the kinks she has exhibited this year and moving forward mentally and demonstrating the kind of mechanics needed to compete with grade I horses again.
There has been a great deal of criticism regarding Saturday’s performance – she was being asked by jockey Calvin Borel to beat an unheralded opponent, Queen Martha, by “only” three lengths and her time of 1:49 3/5 was a far cry from the blazing times she ran last year.
First off, let’s address Queen Martha. Does anyone really know how good this filly is? The Lady’s Secret was her dirt debut, and being by Rahy, out of a Cryptoclearance mare, one would think she should move up on dirt. She did win a one-mile handicap at Doncaster in
In the Lady’s Secret, Queen Martha finished 7 3/4 lengths ahead of the third horse, and after that the margins were 9 3/4, 14, 5 1/2, and 23 1/4.
Many were expecting to see Rachel win by another monster margin in fast time, but with temperatures around 100 degrees and a heat index well over 100, and a racetrack that was dead, producing slow times all day, you have to wonder if it would have been wise to push her in any way on such a brutally hot day and over such a slow surface.
Was this a perfect race for Rachel? Certainly not, but it was a step in the right direction. She no longer raced with her head up, and leveled off beautifully in the final furlong and then galloped out strongly. Borel had to stand straight up in the irons in order to get her pulled up. She did not drift out after turning for home, as she did in the Fleur de Lis, and ran straight and true in the final furlong while under a hand ride by Borel, who did not have to resort to eight or nine crosses this time to keep her straight.
Unlike her earlier races, she was on a loose rein down the backstretch and seemed content to be rated back a bit off the pace. There was no more pulling and tight reins. The opinion here is that the elimination of the figure-8 bridle helped a great deal in that regard.
Her final eighth in :12 3/5 was OK under the circumstances, so you really can’t fault her there.
Borel made two moves with her. First he let her cruise up to Queen Martha, and then when he asked her at the top of the stretch, she showed good acceleration and went right on by the leader.
There has been a lot of talk about her ducking in after turning for home, but I'm not so sure that wasn’t more the result of Borel trying to get her to change leads and remembering about her drifting out in her last start. You can see him shift his weight on her to the inside and then pull her back out. It was just too close to tell for sure, and only Borel can address that, but once he threw a single cross on her and hand rode her the rest of the way she ran perfectly straight, lowering her head and shoulders and striding out nicely in the final furlong. If she did duck in on her own, then that, like her drifting out, has to be addressed. But it just seems too inconclusive to say for sure.
As stated before, it wasn’t a perfect race. She came by the stands on her wrong lead and took the first turn wide. Whether Borel intended to keep her wide or not, you don’t want her losing too much ground when she faces tougher company. And whether she ducked in because of Borel’s weight shift or not, you don’t want to lose any momentum at that point when battling with the likes of Zenyatta and Life at Ten or any other top-class opponent she will face later.
Not being a horse behaviorist and not seeing Rachel on a day-to-day basis, I am just mentioning the following as an observation and nothing more. But in the post parade, she had her tail tucked tightly between her legs, to the extent that her tail was half way across her belly. As an observer of horses’ behavior, that’s usually something you don’t want to see. Several equine websites state, like with dogs, it normally means the animal is fearful of something or fretting about something. But that is beyond my expertise. And what it means in relation to Rachel I have no idea. Maybe she didn't like the heat, maybe it was the wind, who knows? It could be absolutely nothing. It certainly didn’t seem to affect her performance. Not having seen her other post parades this year I don’t know if she's done that before. All I know is that she did it on Saturday, and I’m merely pointing it out for those more knowledgeable on the subject to consider.
The bottom line is that, in my opinion, this was a better performance than many believe it to be, because Rachel was more mechanically efficient and seems to have gotten rid of most of the bad habits she exhibited earlier this year. And what caliber of horse she beat, meaning Queen Martha, still has to be determined.
Is Rachel ready to take on Zenyatta or Life at Ten or even Devil May Care and Blind Luck? Who knows? It will be a tough task for sure. If she runs in the Personal Ensign next it will be a big step up for her, but she needs the bottom going 10 furlongs to build enough of a foundation to prepare her for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. So it is more important that she runs a big race in the Personal Ensign and does it the right way than actually winning the race. If she is to return to anything resembling the Rachel of last year, it should come in the Beldame (gr. I) and Classic.