Rachel Alexandra’s extraordinary victory in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga has been voted by fans as NYRA’s 2009 “Story of the Year.” The victory eclipsed four other compelling tales from New York racing, including jockey Ramon Dominguez’s superlative year and Linda Rice’s historic Saratoga training title.
“The year was filled with memorable stories and I am delighted that Rachel Alexandra’s race in the Woodward won top honors,” said owner Jess Jackson, whose Stonestreet Stable campaigns the filly with Harold McCormick. “It was an extraordinary race in which she repelled a series of challenges, a race which displayed her courage and tenacity.
“As you may remember, we entered her in the Woodward to test her against older males in order to measure her greatness,” Jackson added. “And greatness is what she demonstrates to all who watch that historic race.”
Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to ever emerge victorious in the 56 year history of the race, and she did so after setting torrid opening fractions of :22.85 and :46.41, and then holding off the late charges of grade I winners Macho Again and Bullsbay. When she returned to the winner’s circle, it was to the deafening cheers of the 31,171 in attendance.
Calvin Borel, who piloted Rachel Alexandra for all five of her grade I victories in 2009, was effusive in his praise of the sensational daughter of Medaglia d’Oro.
“I am so excited to be part of NYRA's ‘Story of the Year’ in Rachel winning the Woodward,” Borel said. “Words can hardly describe how proud I was that day of Rachel; she showed in that victory the depths of her versatility and tenacity. In winning the Woodward, Rachel earned her rightful place among racing’s greatest of all time.
“I would like to thank Steve Asmussen and his staff for always having her ready to answer the challenges that come her way, and also Mr. Jackson, who has put Rachel's talent on display for the racing world to witness, enjoy, and remember for many years to come,” Borel added. “And thanks to the racing public, whose enthusiasm for Rachel has brought new fans to our sport. To achieve a historical feat at Saratoga was a dream come true for me, and I'm glad my favorite memory of 2009 could be recognized as NYRA's ‘Story of the Year.’”
Campaigned by the nation’s leading trainer, Steve Asmussen, Rachel Alexandra’s defeat of older males in the Woodward was the second dazzling show the filly put on in New York in 2009, having won the Mother Goose (gr. I) at Belmont Park on June 27 by a record 19 1/4 lengths in a stakes record 1:46.33.
More than 5,000 votes were cast by fans choosing among five compelling storylines – some human, some equine – on the NYRA website (www.nyra.com) in voting that began in December and concluded Jan. 15.
Rachel Alexandra received 2,017 votes (40% of the ballots), topping jockey Ramon Dominguez, who had a year-long reign as New York’s leading jockey, winning riding titles at all three of NYRA’s tracks – Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga – in his first full year of riding in the Empire State. The 33-year-old rider finished 2009 with 376 NYRA victories, more than any other rider besides Steve Cauthen, who rode 422 winners back in 1977. Dominguez garnered 1,638 votes (32%).
Also attracting considerable support was Linda Rice, who became the first woman to ever win a training title in New York (or any other major racetrack) when she saddled 20 winners at the Spa to edge Todd Pletcher by a single victory. Rice received 1,172 votes (23%).
Summer Bird, who swept the top races in New York as the first 3-year-old since Easy Goer in 1989 to win the Belmont Stakes, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, collected 174 votes (3%) and Gio Ponti, whose grade 1 victories in Belmont Park’s Man o’ War and Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap were highlights of an outstanding season that wrapped up with a second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Zenyatta, got 66 votes (1%).