Rachel Returns to Grade I in Personal Ensign
After a half season of playing catch up, Rachel Alexandra is finally at a fitness level that satisfies her connections. Now, they say, it’s time for the reigning Horse of the Year to tell them if she is as good as last year.
Rachel Alexandra will make her first foray into grade I company since defeating older males in the Woodward Stakes last September when she takes on four fillies and mares as the 2-5 favorite in the $300,000 Personal Ensign Stakes Aug. 29 at Saratoga. It will also be her debut at 10 furlongs, a distance that even trainer Steve Asmussen is unsure she is best suited for.
The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro will have no easy task in the Personal Ensign, where she will face the streaking Life At Ten, a winner of six consecutive races (five of them in stakes company) including the July 17 Delaware Handicap (gr. II), a race in which she proved she could handle 10 furlongs.
Post time for the Personal Ensign, race 10 on the Spa card, is slated for 5:56 p.m. EDT.
There is little debate that majority owner Jess Jackson has eased Rachel Alexandra into her 2010 campaign. She began with a runner-up finish in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in March at Fair Grounds—a race that was basically written for her—and followed that up by also running second in the April 30 La Troienne (gr. II) Churchill Downs.
The bay filly got back to her winning ways against a short field in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) on Stephen Foster (gr. I) day in June, and instead of going in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga last month, she opted for the ungraded Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park. She won that July 24 race by three lengths.
And now, Team Rachel figures she ready for her biggest test of the year. Asmussen, who took over training duties from Hal Wiggins after Jackson and Hal McCormick purchased her privately just before winning last year’s Preakness (gr. I), admits that 10 furlongs is venturing into an unknown territory. Though, he does draw confidence that one of her best races came in that Preakness, which was at 9 1/2 furlongs.
“I think it's time,” Asmussen told the NY Daily News earlier this week when asked about her ability to handle the extra distance. “It's still a big question and Sunday’s the best time to answer it. She ran well (in the Preakness). It's definitely out there for her to try. That's what Sunday is for.”
Rachel Alexandra has recorded four works since the Lady’s Secret, all at Saratoga. Her final tune-up came on Aug. 23 when she went four furlongs in an easy :48.89. Calvin Borel, who has ridden the filly to all nine of her graded stakes wins, will once again have the mount and they will break from post 2. She will carry 122 pounds.
Overall, Rachel Alexandra, who was bred by Dolphus Morrison and is out of the Roar mare Lotta Kim, has earned $3,446,730 from 13 wins.
After this race, Rachel Alexandra’s next spot could be the Oct. 2 Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, which should set her up for the Breeders’ Cup in November. It is unclear which Breeders' Cup race that will be, but first thing’s first.
In the Personal Ensign, it will be interesting to see how the race plays out from a tactical standpoint. Both Rachel Alexandra and Life At Ten like to run on the pace, and even though Rachel is quicker if she wants to be, Life At Ten has done her best running when on the lead. Who will have early the lead?
In both the June 12 Ogden Phipps Handicap, which was her first grade I victory, and the Delaware Handicap, Life At Ten went wire-to-wire under John Velazquez, who has the mount this time as well. The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon was also close to the pace when taking the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne in April for her first graded win. The Todd Pletcher trainee is undefeated in four starts this season and is clearly at the top of her game. She will break outside of Rachel Alexandra from post 4.
“Our filly has tactical speed; she can place herself where she needs to be,” said Pletcher. “I think she’ll be forwardly placed, but we’ll play it by ear.
“The Personal Ensign is a natural progression as it made sense to keep her at a mile and a quarter. It just so happens that Rachel Alexandra is going to this race, but we are sticking with our plan."
Life At Ten, the 5-2 second choice, is owned by Candy DeBartolo, who bought her privately as a juvenile. Bred in Kentucky by Nickelback Farm, she is out of the Rahy mare Rahrahsixboombah. In two starts at Saratoga, both allowances races last summer, the chestnut mare finished runner-up.
"She has gotten better and better as she has gotten older," Pletcher continued. "It was something we thought would happen, although it took longer than we had hoped.”
The other three starters—Miss Singhsix (10-1), Persistently (20-1), and Classofsixtythree (20-1)—all like to run from off the pace.
Miss Singhsix was runner-up most recently to Life At Ten in the Delaware Handicap and prior to that won the Obeah (gr. III) by a neck for her first graded stakes win.
The 4-year-old Persistently was runner-up in the Frizette (gr. I) and Matron (gr. II) as a juvenile, and enters out of an optional claiming win at Saratoga on July 30.
Classofsixtythree was a well-beaten third in the Ruffian last out, one start after scoring a one-mile allowance contest at Monmouth.
$300,000 Personal Ensign (gr. I, Race 10, 5:56 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt)
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