The brilliance of Rachel Alexandra’s remarkable Horse of the Year campaign in 2009 captured the imagination of racing fans across the world.
The filly’s dominant Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victory at Churchill Downs was special to many, but perhaps none more than a resilient, critically-ill young girl named Rachel Mattson, who developed a relationship with Rachel Alexandra and then-trainer Hal Wiggins during a special weekend at Churchill Downs. Rachel’s bond with her equine namesake is chronicled in a poignant edition of HRTV’s “Inside Information, which is set to air March 28 at 9 p.m. EST.
Titled “Rachel’s Story," the piece recounts the 9-year-old’s ongoing battle with aplastic anemia, a condition that affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells, and the emotional uplift she received from Rachel Alexandra and trainer Hal Wiggins.
“This unique triangle between the two Rachels and trainer Hal Wiggins touched so many people, including Michael Canale, HRTV’s senior producer for live production,” said HRTV executive producer Amy J. Zimmerman in a release. “He has never stopped thinking about them since that day when HRTV carried the Kentucky Oaks coverage live. This is a story Michael has wanted to tell since that day and we are proud to bring it to HRTV.”
Rachel’s story began when the young girl was put in contact with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Fascinated with horses for most of her life, Rachel’s wish was to see the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Churchill Downs, Rachel’s wish was granted.
On the morning of the Oaks, Rachel found her special horse in her namesake, Rachel Alexandra. Despite his obligations in saddling the favorite in the Run for the Lilies, Wiggins took Rachel Mattson under his wing. While he kept one eye on his prized horse, he also never let Rachel out of his sight.
“I picked (Rachel) up, and brought her into the stall, and she petted Rachel (Alexandra), and I told her we wanted to give her a good luck pat and all,” Wiggins recalled. “I got in my car and called (his wife) Renee, and I was just crying like a baby.”
When it came time to celebrate the biggest win of his career with the biggest horse of his career, Hal Wiggins made sure that Rachel Mattson was reunited with Rachel Alexandra, front and center in the winner’s circle.
Rachel Alexandra had plenty of supporters that day, but few more exuberant than a tough young girl rooting on her favorite horse and intent on conquering a serious illness.
“We were cheering for Rachel all day long, all the time she was running,” Rachel remembered.