Rachel Alexandra has already captivated the Thoroughbred racing world with breathtaking performances and record-setting wins. On Sept. 5 at Saratoga, the 3-year-old filly will seek history when trying to become the first female to win the Woodward Stakes (gr. I)—a feat that would almost certainly lock up Horse of the Year honors and stamp the 3-year-old as one of the best fillies of all time.
Rachel Alexandra will face seven males in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward, which is the feature of a 12-race Saratoga card that also includes the $300,000 Forego (gr. I). Post time for the $750,000 Woodward, which will be shown live on HRTV and TVG, is scheduled for 5:52 p.m. EDT.
The Woodward is featured on this week's episode of That Handicapping Show.
A daughter of Medaglia d'Oro —Lotta Kim, by Roar, Rachel Alexandra drew post 3 and was installed as the 1-2 favorite. She will face grade I winners Bullsbay, Macho Again and Da’ Tara, multiple graded stakes winner Asiatic Boy, as well as It’s a Bird, Cool Coal Man, and last year’s Woodward runner-up, Past the Point. The bay filly will carry 118 pounds, while the males were all assigned 126 pounds. Regular rider Calvin Borel will have the mount.
“For all of us involved, this was kind of a new frontier and the timing was good (coming) into this race and she’s come into it very well,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “It’s important for her longevity to space her races out as best we can. This fell into place. She just thrives in Saratoga.
“This is a great field for Saturday. They’re very powerful horses and they’re capable of big efforts. None of them are to be taken lightly.”
According to racing historian Allan Carter, only one other 3-year-old filly has started in the Woodward—which was run for the first time in 1954—and there have been a total of seven female runners in the historic race. None of them have won. A victory in the Woodward would also make Rachel Alexandra the first 3-year-old filly to win a grade I unrestricted route race on the dirt in New York since the system of grading races began in 1973.
A victory in the Woodward would go a long way in sewing up Horse of the Year honors for Rachel Alexandra, who would become the first 3-year-old filly to win that award since Twilight Tear and Busher did it consecutively in 1944-45.
Owned by Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick, who purchased the filly shortly after she won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) by a record 20 1/4 lengths, Rachel Alexandra is undefeated in eight starts this season. She became the first filly in 85 years to win the BlackBerry Preakness (gr. I) on May 16 and after demolishing a pair of rivals in the June 27 Mother Goose (gr. I) at Belmont Park, she defeated 3-year-old males for the second time in the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park.
Overall, Rachel Alexandra has produced a 10-2-0 record from 13 starts with earnings of $2,498,354.
"We’re stepping up to the plate and we just have to put them in the gate and see what happens,” said Borel, who has ridden Rachel Alexandra to all of her wins in 2009. “This has to be the toughest race for her, stepping up to older horses. The filly’s doing good and Steve’s doing an awesome job with her and she’s ready right now. I watched her work (Aug. 31) and I’d never thought I’d say that she’s better than when I went on her in the Oaks, but I just think she’s just gotten better. She’s the best horse I ever rode, by far.”
Installed as the 6-1 second choice was Mitchell Ranch, Frank Lewkowitz, and Joe Rice’s Bullsbay , an 18-1 upset winner in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) Aug. 8 at Saratoga. The 1 1/2-length Whitney score was the first grade I triumph for the 5-year-old son of Tiznow . It was also the first grade I win on dirt for his trainer, Graham Motion.
Bullsbay has won three of seven starts this season, including the grade III Alysheba at Churchill Downs. He has earned more than $800,000 from 17 lifetime starts. Jeremy Rose will be back aboard and they will break from post 2.
“I was surprised with the way he won the Whitney," admitted Motion. "I mean, I thought he was a little bit of an overlay at 18-1, but I never expected him to win like that. I’m a bit surprised that he’s second choice for the Woodward. I think he’ll end up third or fourth choice. I have tremendous respect for Rachel Alexandra. I just picked up Bullsbay last year, so I’ve had him just about for a year. If you put a line through two races, he’s a very consistent horse."
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again was runner-up in the Whitney, but defeated Bullsbay in the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill. It was the first grade I score for the 4-year-old Macho Uno colt. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Macho Again (8-1) won the Jim Dandy (gr. II) at Saratoga last season. He is 6-5-0 from 19 starts with earnings of more than $1.6 million.
“The horse dictated that we run in this race,” said West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse. “He’s been doing so well. He’s never been doing better. Normally we space out his races a little more, but he’s been doing so well and it’s at a track that he’s run very well at before, and the purse has been adjusted, so we just wanted to give a shot to the partners.
“I love our chances. I think anytime you run against a special athlete like (Rachel Alexandra) it’s exciting. Our horse has run in 13 or 14 stakes races in his career and I really think that we’ll be flying at the end. When we turn for home, we’ll all be excited.”
Asiatic Boy (10-1) is the top earner in the field, having banked more than $3.2 million in his career. The 6-year-old Argentine-bred horse has had his most success in Dubai, where he has won five graded races. He was also runner-up to Curlin in last year’s $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). This sseason, Asiatic Boy was runner-up in the Stephen Foster when making his American debut, and last out was second again in the July 4 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont. Alan Garcia will ride for Kiaran McLaughlin.
Also at 10-1 on the morning line is Edmund Gann’s It's a Bird, the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) winner two starts back. Trained by Marty Wolfson, It’s a Bird also crossed the wire first in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) in April, but was disqualified and placed seventh after a positive post-race medication test. He has won 10 of 31 career starts, most of them in Florida.
A pair of stablemates from last season’s Triple Crown trail will try to spring the upset—Da' Tara and Cool Coal Man—both owned by Robert Lapenta and trained by Nick Zito. Da’ Tara is best known for denying Big Brown the Triple Crown with his shocking 38-1 victory in the 2008 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The son of Tiznow has not won in seven starts since and was beaten 49 lengths by Cool Coal Man Aug. 10 in the Albert the Great Stakes at Saratoga.
Cool Coal Man won the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream as a sophomore and finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He has won three of seven starts this season, including the Albert the Great when winning by nearly 13 lengths.
Da’ Tara and Cool Coal Man will be a coupled entry.
Past the Point, trained by Eoin Harty, completes the field. The son of Indian Charlie won a seven-furlong optional claimer Aug. 6 at Saratoga for his second win in three tries at the track. In last year’s Woodward, Past the Point set the pace and was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths for it all by Curlin.
“He loves it up here,” said assistant trainer Brian Ainge. “He trains good on this track. This is his third Saratoga up here and he’s hit the board either first or second. He tries real hard and he likes it up here a lot. I know the filly is the one to beat, but hopefully everyone will run well.”
2. Bullsbay , 126, Jeremy Rose, Graham Motion, 6-1
3. Rachel Alexandra, 118, Calvin Borel, Steve Asmussen, 1-2
4. Cool Coal Man, 126, John Velazquez, Nick Zito, 12-1
5. Macho Again, 126, Robby Albarado, Dallas Stewart, 8-1
6. It's a Bird, 126, Julien Leparoux, Marty Wolfson, 10-1
7. Asiatic Boy, 126, Alan Garcia, Kiaran McLaughlin, 10-1
8. Past the Point, 126, Edgar Prado, Eoin Harty, 15-1