Though her work was a bit fast for his taste, trainer Hal Wiggins was more than satisfied when his filly Rachel Alexandra made it back to the barn in good shape after zipping through a half-mile in :46 2/5 at Churchill Downs the morning of April 27.
Posting the fastest move of 26 at the distance over a track rated as “fast,” clockers caught Rachel Alexandra in fractions of :11 3/5, :23 1/5, :34 4/5, while galloping out five furlongs in :58 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:10 3/5.
“It was real nice…really too fast for me, but (jockey) Calvin (Borel) just promised me that she’s doing it very easy and relaxed, and he’s not urging her,” said Wiggins after leaving Rachel’s barn around 1:30 p.m. “The main thing is, she came back to the barn fine, cooled out really nice, and when I left, she had her head in the feed tub and everything looked OK.”
Wiggins, 66, has been the main source of buzz surrounding the Kentucky Oaks. Not only does he possess the feel-good story of trying to capture the lilies with his first grade I winner in 34 years, but he has the bonus of saddling a filly like Rachel Alexandra -- one of the most powerhouse contenders in the field, who will be the overwhelming favorite when the starting gate is loaded for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
“It’s naturally a good feeling anytime you have a favorite in a graded stakes, and it’s just nice that she’s doing well, taking everything in stride, and doing OK,” said Wiggins of the bay 3-year-old.
Considering he has always had a small stable of 15-20 horses, Wiggins said he never predicted he would have a filly of the kind of caliber to be favored in the biggest female race of the year.
“I didn’t predict I’d be here,” he said. “You always hope you have a really nice horse where you can travel around and run in graded stakes and all, so it’s gratifying that I have (Rachel Alexandra) at this stage of my career.”
Wiggins, who for more than 30 year has trained for Rachel Alexander’s co-owner/breeder, Dolphus Morrison, also conditioned the filly’s dam, Lotta Kim. The Roar mare ran second in the 2003 Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and won the 2004 Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Retired because of an injury during her 3-year-old season, Lotta Kim was bred to Medaglia d'Oro , and the resulting first foal was Rachel Alexandra.
Morrison, who named Rachel Alexandra after his oldest granddaughter, sold an interest in the filly to Michael Lauffer last fall.
When Wiggins was asked who he believed were Rachel Alexandra’s biggest threats in the Oaks, he started with the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Justwhistledixie.
“She’s a very, very nice filly,” Wiggins said. “Any time you win five races and four stakes in a row, you’ve got to have a lot of ability, and apparently she does.”
The next filly Wiggins named, Gabby’s Golden Gal, came as a surprise, as she will likely be a longshot with no graded stakes earnings to her credit. Gabby's Golden Gal has the same sire as Rachel Alexandra--Medaglia d'Oro .
“She’s kind of an unknown, but I thought she ran a tremendous race in the Sunland Park Oaks,” said Wiggins of the Bob Baffert-trainee, who romped to a 13-length jaw dropping victory in her last race March 29. “I watched her work yesterday, and I thought she worked really nice (five furlongs in 1:00 3/5), she galloped out very strong, and she could kind of be the unknown type coming in here. She’s improving, and if she improves off that Sunland race, she could beat any type.”
Wiggins believes the third and final major challenger in the Oaks field will be Flying Spur.
“You’ve got to mention the (Bill) Mott filly…she ran second in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) behind Rachel, and ran a real nice second, and apparently she’s training well. And she’s in good hands…those guys know what to do with her.”
Judging by her past performances, Wiggins sure knows what to do with Rachel as well. May the best filly take the lilies.