Rachel Alexandra retires from racing

2009 Preakness winner went 8-0 that year, but was never quite the same

September 28, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Baltimore Sun reporter

Rachel Alexandra, who in 2009 became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in 85 years, is retiring from racing, according to owner Jess Jackson.

The decision to end her career comes on the heels of a disappointing 2010 season, one where she never regained the form she showed as a dominant 3-year-old, winning only two of her five races.

In 2009, the filly burst onto the scene by winning the Kentucky Oaks by a record 20 lengths, a performance so impressive it had many experts surmising that she could have entered the Kentucky Derby the following day and won. Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode her to victory in the Oaks, thought so highly of her he became the first jockey in history to ride the Kentucky Derby winner and then give up that mount in the Preakness because he wanted to ride another horse.

Rachael Alexandra validated Borel's decision two weeks later when she captured the second leg of the Triple Crown at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, holding off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird down the stretch. After skipping the Belmont Stakes, she finished the year 8-0 and was named Horse of the Year by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

But Rachael either peaked as a 3-year-old or was permanently worn down by the dominant 2009 season, because despite taking several months off she was never the same horse. The decision to end her racing career was not totally unexpected. There had been speculation Jackson might send her to the breeding shed ever since she finished second at the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs back in May, although he flatly denied it at the time.

"I believe it's time to retire our champion and reward her with a less stressful life," Jackson said in a statement. "We are delighted that she will retire healthy and happy to our beautiful farm in Kentucky.

Rachel Alexandra owes us nothing. As a 3-year-old, she set standards and records that no filly before her ever achieved."

Trainer Steve Asmussen echoed Jackson's comments, saying he would forever cherish the experience of working with her.

"I have been blessed to have been part of history," Asmussen said.

"She had the most fluid and beautiful stride of any horse I have every seen. It's been quite a ride."

Considering her popularity -- she was once featured in Vogue, and was one of the few stories in recent years that drew casual fans back to the racing -- Rachel Alexandra's retirement is yet another blow to the sport, which has had trouble in recent years keeping its most popular and talented horses active through their 3-year-old season and beyond.

Earlier this year, Eskendereya, who looked like one of the most gifted horses to come along in years, injured his leg in training and was retired before he ever ran a Triple Crown race. Smarty Jones, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness States in 2004, never raced again after finishing second at the Belmont.

In all likelihood, Rachael Alexandra could have continued to race.

Before her decline, a much-anticipated match-up with super filly Zenyatta -- who is undefeated in 18 career starts -- was something racing fans were desperately clamoring for. But there is likely too much money at stake in the breeding shed to risk a life-threatening injury. Jackson plans to breed Rachael Alexandra with another of his horses, Curlin, who won the 2007 Preakness.

"Rachel Alexandra waged a three-year-old campaign that was nothing short of historic -- both for its flawlessness and its ambition," said Alex Waldrop, the President and CEO of the NTRA. "We commend all those who played such a large part in her greatness. Rachel Alexandra provided countless thrills to fans all around the world, and all of us now undoubtedly look forward to the racing exploits of her offspring."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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