I find it interesting that so many people gave me the proverbial business when I suggested that Blind Luck may be starting to show signs of fatigue. A wearing down from her non-stop campaign stretching since her career debut in the Summer of 2009. It was an innocent question after seeing her runner-up finish in the recent El Encino Stakes. In that race, I felt Blind Luck had run her worst race in a long time, if not in her career. She was beaten by a decent enough filly in Always a Princess, but no world beater, and she was well beaten, losing by more than three lengths. My suggestion that perhaps the excellent filly needed a little break was generally scoffed at. While it seems that Blind Luck gets a full pardon for her poor outing, the same could not be said for the previous three-year-old filly champion, Rachel Alexandra.
We all know what type of season Rachel had in 2009. She won each of her eight starts, all in stakes. She won the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose by 20 lengths. She became the first female ever to win the Woodward. She was the second ever female to take the Haskell, beating the male champion by six lengths in the process. Rachel is the only filly to win the Preakness in the past 85 years. In a word, her three-year-old season was brilliant. Unfortunately, her four-year-old season was not brilliant.
In 2010, Rachel ran five times. She was a game 2nd, after a long layoff in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds. Next came a head defeat to Unrivaled Belle in the La Troienne. In the narrow defeat, she gave the horse that came back to easily win the BC Ladies’ Classic four pounds. Her third race was more 2009 like, as Rachel won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis by more than ten lengths. She ran faster and carried more weight than Blame did in winning the Stephen Foster a few races later that afternoon. The fourth race of her season came in the $400,000 Lady’s Secret in which she won by three lengths in sweltering heat against an admittedly weak field. Finally, her last race came in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. In her first try at 1 ¼ miles, Rachel won the battle by easily putting away the highly regarded Life at Ten, before losing the war, as she had nothing left for the final 100 yards and the late run of Persistently.
Her season of 2010, with two wins and three second place finishes in five starts was nothing like her masterpiece of the previous year, but was it really a disaster, miserable, failure, or flop as so many have written? Compare it with the four-year-old seasons of other Hall of Fame fillies. Winning Colors won only 2 of 7 races, and finished out of the money five times. The great Genuine Risk won 2 of 3 races as an older filly, but each of those races came in allowance races. Desert Vixen lost 5 of her first 6 starts after her stellar sophomore season. Serena’s Song kept busy, but lost 10 of her 15 starts at four. Yet those fillies are still deservingly remembered as among the best in modern times.
If you eliminate her 2009 season, Rachel Alexandra won 5 and was second 5 times in 11 lifetime races. Only in her first lifetime start, was she worse than second. She won three stakes races, two of them grade 2’s. No juvenile filly earned a higher Beyer speed figure than she did in winning the Golden Rod at two. Last year, only Zenyatta, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, earned a higher Beyer as Rachel did in winning the Fleur de Lis. I think it is safe to say, without her season of perfection in 2009, Rachel Alexandra would have been remembered as an awfully nice filly.
Getting back to Blind Luck, I have nothing against her, in fact, I am a fan. I believe she is topnotch, and is putting together a fantastic career. In comparison to Rachel though, the El Encino performance was not as good as any of Rachel’s races last year. Yet people are quick to excuse the effort, blaming the speed biased track, or saying it was a good effort for her first of the year.
I understand that Rachel was held to a higher standard, as the reigning Horse of the Year, but to what end? Have we become so expecting of perfection of our stars, that they simply can not live up to them. Do we not allow ourselves to fully enjoy the special ones, because of these expectations? Food for thought.