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Rachel Alexandra: Is She The Best Filly Ever?
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.