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Rachel Alexandra: Is She The Best Filly Ever?

Updated on June 5, 2011

She won the Kentucky Oaks. She won the Preakness Stakes. She beat the boys in the Woodward. So Where does super-filly Rachel Alexandra rank among the all-time great fillies? Right up near the top, that's where. First, let's examine the career of this remarkable daughter of Madaglia D'oro; then we'll take a look at some of the greatest fillies of all time and see where she stacks up.

Of her 14 races to date, Rachel Alexandra has won 11, including the last nine straight. Since a second place finish in the Pocahontas Stakes last November at Churchill Downs, she had not been seriously threatened until her desperate win over Macho Again in the Woodward Stakes, in which she held on by a head after setting a quick pace and making all the running.

That stretch of races included a magnificent victory in the Preakness Stakes over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird; as well as a dominating win in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park against Belmont and Travers Stakes winner Summer Bird. Against this year's crop of three-year-old males, Rachel Alexandra has no peers.

The three qualities that we look for in a great thoroughbred race horse are: speed, class, and staying power. Rachel Alexandra has them all. In spades. She has the kind of controllable tactical speed that seems to characterize almost all of the very best race horses, from Secretariat to Seattle Slew, and from Personal Ensign to Ruffian. And like all of the aforementioned greats, Rachel Alexandra can carry that speed a distance of ground, having won at up to 9.5 furlongs.

Class? Have a look at her win in the 2009 Woodward Stakes, in which she was challenged through a blistering early pace, felt the sting of Calvin Borel's whip for the first time in many months, and yet held on for a gritty win over top 4-year-old male Macho Again.

Watch Rachel Alexandra's Preakness Win

Very well, then. Rachel Alexandra is a great filly, but just how great? For my money, the best filly ever to race on American soil was the great grass filly Miesque, twice the dominating winner of the Breeder's Cup Mile. But Rachel Alexandra is a dirt horse, so that's really an apples and oranges comparison.

Leaving our comparison strictly to fillies that have competed predominantly on the dirt or artificial surfaces, by acclimation the two best American fillies are Personal Ensign and Ruffian, with perhaps Bayakoa and Azeri also deserving mention. And then there's Zenyatta, the undefeated California artificial track specialist. Is Rachel Alexandra even the best filly in training, let alone the best ever?

Personal Ensign's great claim to fame was retiring undefeated, her record a perfect 13 for 13. She beat the champion sprinter Gulch in a three horse Whitney, but then Gulch was 1 for 15 in his career in races longer than a mile. Her greatest rival was the Kentucky Derby winning filly Winning Colors, who never did seem quite the same after her Derby win. Personal Ensign was great, but her competition was not.

About poor Rufian, what can be said? She was fast. Very fast. She was never headed at any call in her ten races before her tragic breakdown in a match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. We'll never be able to judge just how good she was.

And Zenyatta? Undefeated yes, but she's never faced males and seldom ventured outside of her home on the soft artificial tracks of Southern California. To make her claim, she must show her class.

So am I ready to declare Rachel Alexandra the best ever? Not quite. Her full tally won't be written until her career is over. But when all is said and done will she be considered the best filly in history? I say... yes.

John Devereux writes about horse racing and more on his news and product reviews blog.


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    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 5 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Lisa...Hello??? Zenyatta won the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, the championship race of the season, against a boys' field, which is traditional for that competition. She also ran in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic against boys, losing by a nose to Blame.

      Zenyatta won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (formerly the BC Distaff), the girls' counterpart to the boys' Classic.

    • profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago

      Someone needs to do homework. Zenyatta never

      faced the boys! Seriously!

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      RA_IS_SWEET 6 years ago

      Rachel Alexander was a great horse that captured a lot of attention and brought many new horse fans with her. I watched her every race a couple years ago and loved every minute of it. I don't know enough to claim if she was over or under rated but in my time watching racing she sure made it interesting and fun to watch.

    • profile image

      chuck 6 years ago


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      BriKW 6 years ago

      Rachel Alexandra was a tremendous filly as was Zenyatta. I truly be leave a disservice was done to the equine sporting world by not entering each horse in the same race. Rachel A front running style, against zenyatta's come from behind to win it style. Who would have came out on top?

      An answer to that question will never be known. I'm looking forward to seeing how each of their fowls develop. Both have been bred to promising sire's. Shame it will be 2014 when they run as 2year-olds (hopefully) I for one look forward to it.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @P.K.W....It was probably Zenyatta. She lost for the first time in 20 races in the Breeders' Cup Classic (run primarily by males) to Blame last November. The BC Classic is a biggie. She won it against the boys in 2009, but Rachel A. also went unbeaten in 2009 and was voted Horse of the Year. Zenyatta got the award for 2010.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      I guess we know now that Rachel Alexandra had one very exceptional season...The following year (2010) she went missing in action. The best ever! Not even close! Genuine Risk was a warrior in the boys Triple Crown...Ruffian was a stallion...Gallorette was magnificent...One-loss Zenyatta ran three times in the top two Breeders' Cup races, winning twice - the only female to win the Classic...Many have been better than the one-season Rachel.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I've misplaced an article I cut out a few months ago about another filly -- I think that's the right term. She was a female horse and had won some big races. The article was prior to another big race which it turned out she didn't win. The article was my first glimpse of the fact that the female horses can race and can win.

      I enjoyed this hub very much.

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      Randy McCarty(ms.) 7 years ago

      Could Ruffian or Personal Ensign or Rachel Alexandra now that 2010 was a terrible year for her and she is retired or even Zenyatta win at the Belmont a mile and a half against the horse Curlin that won horse of the year honors? Rags to Riches had the outside position Curlin the inside. Maybe we will never know and Ruffian may remain the greatest but I wish Rags to Riches could have had more races. I think she deserves at least honorable mention. I don't think any filly other then Ruffian could beat the boys in the Belmont. Randy

    • kirsib profile image

      kirsib 8 years ago

      I think she pretty high up there for sure! Amazing the way she beat the older boys in her last race