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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

"Rachel Alexandra Raises the Rafters Here at the Spa!"

Rachel Woodward
Two years later and I am still amazed at the splendor of the moment. As Havre de Grace nears her date with destiny and attempts to become the second ever female to win the Woodward Stakes, I can’t help but think back with appreciation for what I saw just two years ago.

The 2009 Woodward was o
ne of the most intense and thrilling experiences I have ever witnessed in a lifetime of watching the races. Rachel Alexandra was nothing short of a hero to a huge crowd that crackled with electricity that afternoon at Saratoga, as she attempted something outside of the box - way out.

I can still feel the sharp emotions that coursed through my body throughout the day only to intensify to a fever pitch as the race drew nearer. It seemed that everyone shared in my feeling of the magnitude of the moment. We were all there to watch Rachel, and she would not disappoint.

This year will be a little different. Havre de Grace, while a wonderful filly, is older than Rachel was. She also does not carry the same special sort of magic that Rachel had going in 2009, but a win by her on Saturday would still represent something special, something a little Rachel like. I hope she does it, but it will not be easy, just as it was not easy for Rachel that day.

Please allow me to share what I wrote about the 2009 Woodward the morning after the race…

Yesterday was the day. The day that Rachel Alexandra’s amazing streak of victories would come to an end. She had won her previous eight races going back to her two-year-old season in the most impressive fashion possible without actually sprouting wings. America’s heroine was in for it. Fate was conspiring in insidious ways to stop Rachel from giving the people what they wanted. Here is what I mean:

1) The race was at Saratoga. This beautiful and historic race place is not called the ‘Graveyard of Champions’ for nothing. Man o’ War was upset, his only defeat, by Upset, forever changing the American vernacular for a big favorite going down. Secretariat, riding a high like no other horse in the modern era, left Saratoga with a bad taste in his mouth, defeated by Onion. Shocking defeats are commonplace at this idyllic but lethal racetrack.

2) She was facing older horses and more specifically older males for the first time. 3-year-old fillies simply do not win classic American races against the big boys. This was the first race that Rachel looked physically smaller than most of her opponents. She is a young girl racing men.

3) A sense of overconfidence was starting to set in. There was no reason to be overconfident against the best older males East of the Mississippi, but many onlookers do not realize that anything can happen especially when very good horses are underrated. It always scares me when too many people say that something cannot happen. It is the surest recipe for that very thing to happen.

4) The field was set and it did not seem to complement her running style. Da’ Tara was a rabbit. Past the Point has lots of speed. Cool Coal Man and It’s A Bird like to be close to the pace. All this pace against her, an uncomfortable inside post and every jockey in the race would be gunning for little miss Rachel.

5) The other horses seemed to have an affinity for the Saratoga strip. Macho Again, Bullsbay, Past the Point and Cool Coal Man had all proven to appreciate this track with their previous impressive performances. Rachel had never run here before.

6) The post parade was raucous. More than 31,000 people screamed their support for Rachel as she walked the stretch. She reacted to the screams with a bit of overzealousness that sent Calvin Borel flying off her back. Not a good sign for a racehorse who was about to be in for the race of her life.

7) Early fractions were fast and Rachel’s pace was pressured. Da’ Tara gunned for half a mile. Past the Point pressured her from the outside, Cool Coal Man was up close on the rail. Rachel was forced to run fast all the way under constant pressure. It should have been too much for any horse to handle. The horses that did try to run with Rachel early would drop like stones finishing up the track in the last three spots.

8) The path for the rallying Macho Again and Bullsbay seemed to part like the Red Sea. With the fast early fractions softening up the speed they were poised for big rallies and they were firing their best shot. As they made their moves, they faced clear sailing with no impediments, as they pounced on Rachel.

Eight good reasons why she would be finally defeated, yet she did it. Rachel Alexandra did it. To be there in person, within a mosh-pit of humanity, and energy, and emotion was surreal. My heart was pounding, my forehead was soaked with sweat … I will never forget it. This race on September 5, 2009, a race that she seemed destined to lose, was the race that allowed Rachel Alexandra to prove her true character and courageousness to the world. And she did it. Rachel Alexandra did it.



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Older Comments about "Rachel Alexandra Raises the Rafters Here at the Spa!"...

That race was great!!!! Inspirational!!!! I think Tom Durkin knows how to captivate the moment with his call. I remember when Giant's Causeway and Tiznow hooked up in the stretch, and he described it as a "heart pounding, pulsating stretch drive". Rachel raised the rafters that day.
Now I understand ... for the most part I try to stay out of the back and forth stuff, but maybe on this one I will make an exception. Enjoy your holiday weekend, icyhotboo.
sorry Brian my remark didn't needed the added touch of sarcasm towards you that I gave it. You can't see all things at all times. I guess they have their opinion and I have mine. I was in the Clubhouse when she past the finish line and it was deafening to the point for awhile we were using sign language. Have a very nice day.
BrianZipse, while you were praising her performance on this particular post on another HRN post titled, Can Havre de Grace Beat the Woodward Boys she was being taken down quite a bit for running against second rate horses. I posted that at the time it was happening as I couldn't seem to make anyone understand it really was a great race on her part. Read the comments for yourselves. My question while I was there where were you?
One of the best performances ever I think.
I was there that day and it still sends chills up my spine to remember that race. The crowd just exploded when she won. I thought that Durkin was going to lose his voice--he was croaking at the end with all the excitement. I will always remember that day and she will always have a special place in my heart. There will never be another like her. Bless you, Brian, for keeping her memory alive and reminding us in your eloquent writing of her greatness.
Each horse in that race was capable of running with grade one competition on their best day. Were some of them inconsistent, yes, but it is not like they were claimers. Macho had his moments before the Woodward. He was second in the Preakness, won the Jim Dandy and second in the Super Derby. The next year he won the New Orleans Cap then after a hicup his form went up. He was not worse than second in three consecutive Grade ones. Asiatic Boy, was second the year before in the World Cup. PTP second in last years Woodward and had plenty of speed. Da'Tara was not much but had the speed to be more than a good rabbit. Bullsbay had been right there in the Stephan Foster and won the Whitney. Point is if you judge these horses on the worst they could do, they were grade three at best. If you judged them on what they could do on their best day then you have horses that deserve to be in grade ones. Many of the most influencial horses in that race fired their best shot and were still ran into submission. If anyone can be impressed with what The Factor did on Sat, there is no reason you cannot admit that what RA had to overcome this day was unbelievable.
Not sure what you are trying to say, icyhotboo ... it was an incredible race, and an incredible performance.
You people are way out of touch with reality. If you don't think so read the comments on the post titled:Can Havre de Grace Beat the Woodward Boys?
"She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra the Great! By far, the best race I've ever seen (and, yes, I personally saw both Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup Classic races. The best race call by Durkin. Still evokes powerful emotions and sends chills down the spine!
Andy/Scott - I admire your enthusiasm. That's what horseracing is all about.
I've never been so emotional before,during,or after a race, the way I was for this race. She literally moved me. Will never forget!
It was a day in racing that will never be recreated! It was the exclamation point at the end of the greatest campaign that a filly has ever out together!

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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