Photo: Eclipse SportsWire
As the Kentucky Derby of 2009 approached, the trainer of my top ranked three-year-old made it clear that the horse’s owner had no interest in running his star in the Run for the Roses. I was disappointed that Hal Wiggins was so matter of fact in relaying the adamant wishes of Dolphus Morrison, but it made sense. Less than 12 months removed from the Eight Belles tragedy, pointing Rachel Alexandra for the Kentucky Derby could have been perceived as ill-timed. As good as she looked in the lead-up to May, it was simply not the right time to run a filly in the Derby. With the prestigious Kentucky Oaks as a good alternative, a whole new audience would be introduced to a superstar. When the clear second choice on the morning line, Justwhistledixie, was scratched, Rachel Alexandra was made a prohibitive favorite in the female version of the Kentucky Derby. What transpired after the field of seven fillies was let loose from the Churchill Downs starting gate will forever have a permanent place in my mind, and in my heart. Rachel waited on a good speed horse named Gabby's Golden Gal, who would go on to win the Grade 1 Acorn in her next start, for as long as Calvin Borel could hold her back. When given just a bit of reigns, Rachel exploded past her competition, as if the other filly was standing still. Every effortless stride saw her pull farther and farther in front. Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks like no other horse had done in the long and storied history of the race. Not many who saw it could help from believing that she was the best horse running that Derby weekend. In the one minute and forty eight seconds it took the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro to make her way around the track, she not only was 20 lengths ahead of her nearest competition, but she had captured the imagination of the racing world. Things would happen fast after that, as Jess Jackson offered a prince’s ransom to Dolphus Morrison to purchase the star and see her run in his Stonestreet Farm colors. It was quickly announced that the filly would run against the boys in the Preakness, causing Borel to make the big decision to get off the Derby winner, Mine that Bird, to ride Rachel in the Preakness. It was an unprecedented decision, but one that proved correct, when she became the first filly in more than eighty years to win racing’s Middle Jewel.
Making history on two fronts in a matter of 14 days, Rachel Alexandra fast track to super-stardom was paved on the first Friday in May, 2009. She was the greatest Kentucky Oaks winner of them all.