Rachel Alexandra's hard-won victory in Saturday's $750,000 Woodward Stakes was so impressive and historic, her owner and trainer already are laying claim to Horse of the Year honors.
Based solely on the Woodward, it's hard to argue. The last time a 3-year-old filly beat older males in a Grade I race on the main track in New York was in 1887. No filly had ever won the Woodward.
Jockey Calvin Borel, who took off the Kentucky Derby winner to stick with Rachel Alexandra, sent her right to the lead in the Woodward and was pushed right along by Da' Tara through an opening quarter in 22.85 seconds -- sprinter time. She shook off the early speed on the turn but then had to cope with the closers and was all out to score her ninth straight win by a head over Macho Again. Bullsbay was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.
Despite the relatively desperate margin, Borel said Rachel Alexandra "would never let him go by her. Every time he went up to her, she would dig in again. She is such a tremendous filly. He ran up to her three times, and she kept giving me a little bit more."
"I thought she truly showed she was a champion today," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Rachel Alexandra for Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick. "I can't say enough about the race she put in today under the circumstances."
The Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro filly now has won the Kentucky Oaks, the Preakness Stakes, the Mother Goose, the Haskell and the Woodward, seemingly leaving nothing to prove. The only potential issue is that owner Jess Jackson will not send her to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup, eschewing California's artificial surfaces.
And that brings us to Zenyatta, the 5-year-old, still-undefeated runner-up for last year's Horse of the Year title, who could try for another victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic in November or could take on the males in the $5 million Classic.
It takes some pretty far-fetched "what if" scenarios to see Rachel Alexandra not being Horse of the Year. But … what if Zenyatta wins a prep race convincingly, then runs in the Classic and beats an even tougher field of males than Rachel Alexandra met Saturday?
The issue still could be settled -- for sure -- on the track.
That option is the Oct. 3 Beldame at Belmont Park. Should both the superstars run there, the pot would be upped to $1 million. Zenyatta's owner and trainer haven't ruled it out. And, if they come east, it would be tough for Jackson to duck them.
"A lot gets said about the other mare and what's next. But I think we ought to focus on exactly what happened today," Asmussen said after the Woodward.
About a race against Zenyatta, Jackson said, "I can't predict. It depends on both horses coming out and what both camps would be willing to do. I've indicated Rachel's had a full race year already. It might be that they get together, but I can't predict that. It takes two to (tango), but it better be a good venue or neither one will come."
Other races with implications for the Classic:
-- Monday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park may have turned up another potential star -- the Phipps Stable homebred Gone Astray. After being beaten in a minor stakes last month at Saratoga, trainer Shug McGaughey decided the Travers was too deep for the Dixie Union colt and instead targeted the rich but less contentious Philly event. Gone Astray responded, moving quickly to the front around the turn and easily loping off to win by 9 1/4 lengths. Join in the Dance was best of the rest, 2 lengths ahead of California shipper Kelly Leak. The favorite, Duke of Mischief, had a brutal trip and finished fourth. Gone Astray, under Eddie Castro, ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.27. McGaughey said the colt had been "training well at Saratoga. But this came as a surprise, as easy as he won today. I guess I'm going to have to take a look and see what I've got before deciding where he'll run next."
-- Richard's Kid, at odds of 25-1, swept around the leaders turning for home in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar and went on to post a stunning upset. Einstein got the lead at the top of the lane and finished second by a neck with the favorite, Rail Trip, third. Colonel John was fifth. Richard's Kid, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred Lemon Drop Kid colt, ran the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:02.39, winning for the sixth time in 19 starts. Earlier this year, he was seventh in the Eddie Read Handicap and second to Unusual Suspect in the Cougar II Handicap. Winning jockey Mike Smith said trainer Bob Baffert told him Richard's Kid "was doing good. He said he wants to drop back and make that run. After that, he said, 'Then I want you to give me one of those Hall of Fame rides.'" Garrett Gomez, who rode Colonel John said his mount and Rail Trip were saving ground when, "all of a sudden, the leaders backed right up into us and we had nowhere to go … Racing luck."
-- At Arlington Park, Gran Estreno returned to his home court for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Washington Park Handicap after winning the Claiming Crown Emerald on the Canterbury Park turf last time out. The result was the same as the 6-year-old Argentine-bred steed led all the way through slow fractions and got home first, 1/2 length ahead of Dubious Miss. Wicked Style finished third. Gran Estreno, under E.T. Baird, finished the 1 3/16 miles on the all-weather track in 2:00.61. He also earned a guaranteed spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic but would have to be supplemented to that race.
In other holiday weekend racing that might impact the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$2 million Ladies Classic
Third Dawn came four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar and swept by the leaders, then drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Music Magic finished second and Jehan was third. Third Dawn, a Kentucky-bred Sky Mesa filly, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.6 under Joel Rosario. "I'll give her a little time now and bring her back for the 4-year-old filly series at Santa Anita," said winning trainer John Sadler.
$2 million Sentient Jet Sprint
-- Pyro showed little through the early furlongs of Saturday's $300,000 Forego Stakes at Saratoga. But when jockey John Velazquez kicked him into gear, the 4-year-old Pulpit colt quickly moved up, came out for room and finally split horses in the final sixteenth to win by 1/2 length. The favorite, Kodiak Kowboy, also ran well late to take second and Ready's Echo came from last to be third. Pyro got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.48. Pyro went to Godolphin Racing after finishing sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and was idle until July 29, when he finished second in a Saratoga overnight stakes to Gold Trippi, who ran ninth Saturday. Rick Mettee, assistant to winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor, credited Velazquez. "Johnny gave him a perfect trip. To beat a horse like Kodiak Kowboy, you've got to pull a perfect trip. I could tell he had horse left at the quarter pole. But he pulled a really good trip, which isn't easy to do in a big field like this," Mettee said.
-- Zensational picked up his fourth consecutive win with an anthoritative score in Sunday's $300,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar. Backing up his earlier victory in last month's Bing Crosby Stakes, the 3-year-old Unbridled's Song ridgling shot out to an easy lead and loped home 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Noble Court. Nikki'sgoldensteed finished third. Zensational, under Victor Espinoza, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.31. "He's fast," Espinoza said. "He's really fast. I've ridden some very good, very fast horses. But I've never ridden one like him." Added trainer Bob Baffert: "It's nerve-wracking to have a horse this good. He's an incredible animal -- so fast. You have to be careful with him. If you move on him, he takes off." Baffert said Zensational will train up to the Breeders' Cup.
$1 million Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint
-- Carlsbad dueled for the lead in Friday's $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap through quick early fractions, got the advantage and drew off to win by 4 lengths. Lady Lumberjack rallied to take second with Golden Doc A third. Carlsbad, an Arizona-bred daughter of Rocky Bar, won for the seventh time in nine starts and earned a spot in the Filly & Mare Sprint. However, she is not nominated and would have to be supplemented.
-- Tribal Belle went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Seaway Stakes at Woodbine, opened up a clear lead and survived at the end by a neck over Simply Splendid. Exotic Bloom ranged up from the back of the pack to snatch third. Tribal Belle, a British Columbia-bred daughter of Tribunal, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.44 under James McAleney.
$3 million Emirates Airline Turf
-- No Inflation seized the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Kent Breeders' Cup for 3-year-olds at Delaware Park and turned back all challenges, drawing off at the end to win by 6 1/4 lengths. Out At Night finished second and Dr Large was third. Colonel Rutledge was fourth and the odds-on favorite, Laureate Conductor, completed the order of finish. No Inflation, a Florida-bred Repriced gelding, ran the "about" 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.29 with Rosemary Homeister Jr. up for trainer Tom Proctor, picking up his first added-money win. No Inflation had, however, finished second in the American Derby at Arlington and third in the Jefferson Cup earlier this year. Homeister said she "was told to just let him break and wherever he is comfortable, just leave him there. And when he broke, he broke sharp and he put himself on the lead and he felt very comfortable in that spot … When I got to the middle of the last turn and asked him, he was just in cruise control."
-- Rendezvous had been knocking on the door all through the meet but finally got the big prize in Sunday's $300,000 Del Mar Derby, catching Battle of Hastings in the shadow of the wire to win by a nose. Acclamation finished third. Rendezvous, a Kentucky-bred Victory Gallop colt, finished the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.88 under Joel Rosario. He had been third in the Oceanside Stakes on Opening Day, then second in the La Jolla Handicap. "Joel was in a zone today," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, "so I just told him to ride his race and he surely did." He said Rendezvous will be pointed toward the Oak Tree Derby and maybe the Hollywood Derby.
-- Free Fighter engaged odds-on favorite Brass Hat in a long stretch battle in Monday's $125,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park, coming out on top by 1/2 length. Caberneigh was well back in third. Free Fighter, a 4-year-old Illinois-bred Out of Place gelding, finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:28.31. James Graham had the ride for trainer Chris Block. It was Free Fighter's sixth win in 16 starts but first stakes victory. "By the turn Brass Hat had come to me and we started picking it up together. He held on real well to win it."
-- Al Khali settled behind horses for the first half of Sunday's $100,000 Saranac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, moved up on the turn and into the stretch and drew clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over El Crespo. Armstrong Mill finished third. Al Khali, a Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro ridgling, ran the 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:53. Kent Desormeaux had the mount for trainer Bill Mott.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
-- Hot Cha Cha rallied around rivals in the turn in Monday's $200,000 Pucker Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Arlington Park and waltzed home first, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of the favorite. Romacaca. Single Solution was third, rallying from last of 12. Hot Cha Cha, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Cactus Ridge, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.67 with James Graham in the irons.
-- Mushka sat comfortably in second place behind a runaway speedball in Monday's $100,000 Glens Falls Handicap at Saratoga, then slowly reeled in the leader, went by and won off by 1 1/4 lengths. Lemonette also ran well late to finish second and Queen of Hearts finished third. Mushka, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Empire Maker filly, finished the 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf in 2:13.5. Kent Desormeaux rode for trainer Bill Mott.
-- Tizfiz rallied from a pace-stalking position to win Monday's $150,000 Edward J. Debartolo Sr. Memorial Handicap at Remington Park by 2 lengths over Get Rich Quick. Heza Wild Guy finished third. Tizfiz, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Tiznow mare, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.03 with Luis Quinonez up.
$2 million TVG Turf Mile
-- Get Serious dueled for the early lead in Sunday's $175,000 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park, got clear in the stretch, lost a shoe and then was fully extended to win by a neck over the onrushing Pleasant Strike. Steve's Double finished third. Get Serious, a 5-year-old, New York-bred City Zip gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.01 under Pablo Fragoso. "I can't say enough about this horse," said winning trainer John Forbes. "To run as good as he did and part of it missing a shoe is just tremendous." He said the next race will be either at Belmont or in the Oct. 3 Cliff Hanger at the Meadowlands, with an eye on the Breeders' Cup.
-- Public Speaker rallied along the rail to go to the lead in Monday's $100,000 Sea O'Erin Handicap and edged clear to win by 1 length. Exchanging Kisses set the early fractions and held second. Demarcation was third and the favorite, Tizdejavu, faded to finish seventh. Public Speaker, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.04. Junior Alvarado rode for trainer Dale Bennett.
-- Guipago settled well back in the field in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, rallied between horses to gain the lead in the stretch and got home first, 1/2 length better than Paso Doble. Mr. Foricos Two U finished third as the favorite. Guipago, an Ontario-bred colt by My Way Only, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.33 with Tyler Pizarro up.
$1 million Turf Sprint
-- Chamberlain Bridge had to come six-wide around the turn in Monday's $250,000 Turf Monster Handicap at Philadelphia Park. But once pointed to the wire, the 5-year-old War Chant gelding was all business, closing stoutly under John Velazquez to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Little Nick took the place by a nose over Mr. Nightlinger. Chamberlain Bridge ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.14 seconds. Chamberlain Bridge, trained by Brett Calhoun, now has four stakes wins this year.
-- Big Push made all the pace in Sunday's $60,000 Gilded Time Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park and survived a late bid by Ju Jitsu Jax to win by a neck. The odds-on favorite, Affirmatif, was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Big Push, a Florida-bred Black Mambo colt, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.3 with Elvis Trujillo aboard for trainer Steve Klesaris.
$1 million Dirt Mile
-- Star Nicholas dropped back to last in a field of five in Saturday's $85,000 Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar, then rallied between horses in the stretch to win by a neck as only about a length covered the field at the finish. Monzante was second, a neck in front of Tamborim. Star Nicholas, a 6-year-old, California-bred Poteen gelding, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.53 with Michael Baze up for trainer Peter Eurton.
-- Grazen got the lead between horses in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar and gritted out a 3/4-length victory. Chocolate Candy rallied to just miss and Fu Peg He Rat was well back in third. Grazen, a California-bred Benchmark colt, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.49 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Mike Mitchell.
-- Going Ballistic circled the field, rallied from last of seven and won Monday's $150,000 Governor's Cup Stakes at Remington Park by 1 1/4 lengths. Jonesboro was second as the odds-on favorite and Alcomo finished third. Going Ballistic, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred horse by Lite the Fuse, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.8 under Luis Quinonez. Donnie Von Hemel trains.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile
-- Dublin stumbled at the start of Monday's $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga, slowly made up ground, got to the lead at midstretch and shook loose, winning by 2 lengths over Aspire. Aikenite was third. Dublin, a Kentucky-bred Afleet Alex colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.52. Jamie Theriot was up for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was winning his fifth Hopeful. The others came with Deposit Ticket, Salt Lake, Hennessey and Yonaguska. "This was my No. 1 pick in the sales," Lukas said. "I still haven't lost my eye in that." He said he would like to stretch out Dublin around two turns in his next start but would consider the Grade 1, $400,000 Champagne, a one-turn mile Oct. 10 at Belmont Park.
-- Western Smoke insisted on going to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park and, when jockey Elvis Trujillo let him have his way, the Kentucky-bred Smoke Glacken colt opened a big lead and coasted home first, 1 3/4 length ahead of Not Macho Any More. El Rocco was third. Western Smoke ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.56, gaining his fourth win in six starts. Three of the four victories have come in stakes. "We really didn't break too well," Trujillo said. "He kind of stumbled a bit. But he picked himself up quickly and wanted to go to the front. I tried to rate him a little, but I didn't want to fight him. After that, I decided to just let him run."
-- Dixie Band picked up his third win without a defeat in capturing Saturday's $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park. After a pace-stalking trip, Dixie Band was hooked in the stretch by longshot U Appeal to Me but managed to draw off in deep stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Piscitelli was third. Dixie Band, a Kentucky-bred Dixie Union colt, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.45 for jockey David Flores.
-- Gleam of Hope got through along the rail entering the stretch in Monday's $200,000 Budweiser Select Cradle Stakes at River Downs and drove home 2 1/4 lengths in front of Guys Reward. Harrods Creek finished third and the favorite, Strike the Tiger, faded in the lane to get home seventh. Gleam of Hope, a Kentucky-bred City Zip colt, covered 1 1/16 miles on a good main track in 1:46.8 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
-- Fastin Bear stalked the pace, then drew off rather easily in Monday's $125,000 Simcoe Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine, winning by 5 1/4 lengths over Mobthewarrior. The favorite, Doctor Jack, settled for third. Fastin Bear, a Forest Camp colt, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.84. He now is 1-for-3 and picked up his first stakes win.
-- Ibboyee surged to the lead at midstretch in Monday's $150,000 Aspirant Stakes for New York-breds at Finger Lakes and got loose to win by 6 1/4 lengths over Dahlgren. Ibboyee, a Medallist colt trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.18.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
-- Mi Sueno came around the leaders at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Darley Debutante Stakes at Del Mar and, under some urging from jockey Michael Baze, was up to win by 1 length over Blind Luck. La Nez finished third. Mi Sueno, a Kentucky-bred Pulpit filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.78. Baze said when Blind Luck "got in front of her at the eighth pole -- a head or a neck -- she just rebroke and went after her. I knew I was a winner then. When she puts in her run, she's plenty good. And distance will be no problem for her. The farther the better." Winning trainer Eric Guillot said Mi Sueno "will relax even more when she starts running two turns. She has matured a lot as time has gone on. We'll be aiming for the Breeders' Cup."
-- Hot Dixie Chick ran off with Sunday's $300,000 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga, stalking the pace before taking command in the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Beautician was second and Bickersons was third after showing the way. Hot Dixie Chick, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Robby Albarado, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.28. She also won the Schuylerville to get the Spa season rolling. The victories would make Hot Dixie Chick a favorite for the Breeders' Cup -- if she gets there. Asmussen, who says he won't take Rachel Alexandra to the California artificial surfaces, didn't sound enthusiastic about that option for her younger stablemate. "I don't know if we look past this at all," the trainer said. "It's a Grade 1, the Spinaway."
-- She Be Wild drew off smartly in the stretch run to take Saturday's $150,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park by 5 3/4 lengths over Tiz Miz Sue. Screen Legend finished third. She Be Wild, a Kentucky-bred Offlee Wild filly, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.67. Now 3-for-3, she won her career debut in a $40,000 claimer, then came back to capture the Top Flight Stakes at Arlington last month. Trainer Wayne Catalano said she started her career for a tag because, "Once in a while you have to take shots and do things. The opportunity came and we needed to get a race into her."
-- Truth and Justice got the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park, set a very brisk pace and then wasn't challenged, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Fuzzy Britches ran evenly to finish second and the favorite, Kinsey, finished third. Truth and Justice, a Kentucky-bred Yes It's True filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.99 under Joe Bravo. "I was a little worried and surprised when I saw the fractions, said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "She was going so easily up front it was hard to believe that she was going so fast."
-- All About Anna drew clear in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Coca-Cola Bassinet Stakes at River Downs in Ohio and won by 6 lengths over Letter of the Law. Jody Slew finished third. All About Anna, a Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:12.4 with Corey Lanerie up for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
-- Sound of Thunder, making her career debut, rallied from last of 13 to win Monday's $125,000 (Canadian) Muskoka Stakes for Ontario-bred fillies at Woodbine. Amazon Belle, the favorite, was just a neck back in third and a nose in front of Tee Game. Sound of Thunder, by Stephen Got Even, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.02. "I didn't put her in expecting to win, but I thought she would run well," said winning trainer Mark Casse.
-- Franny Freud, the odds-on favorite, pressed the pace in Monday's $150,000 Lady Finger Stakes for New York-breds at Finger Lakes, then easily drew off, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Hook Me Up. Fanny Freud, a daughter of Freud, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.84 on a fast track.
In other weekend racing:
Godolphin Gray led from the early stride to win Monday's $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial Handicap by 1 length over Matty's Trail. Mr Maccool and The Unbelievable completed the order of finish. Godolphin Gray, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Explicit gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.31 under Aido Canchano.
Smarmy was just up in the final strides to win Saturday's $75,000 Governor's Buckeye Cup Stakes for Ohio-breds by a head over the odds-on favorite, Catalaunch. Key Low finished third. Smarmy, a 5-year-old Parents' Reward gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:07.14 with Oswald Pereira aboard.
Runnin Red ran to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Ruidoso Thoroughbred Derby, was headed by Retap at the top of the stretch but came back to beat that rival by a nose. Smokin' Legend finished third. Runnin Red, a New Mexico-bred Desert God gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.34 under Carlos Madeira.
Takin' the Bullet drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $150,000 A.L. (Red) Erwin Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by 5 1/2 lengths. Zacaroid finished second but was set down to third, behind Ide Miss Dixie, for interfering with that rival in deep stretch. Takin' the Bullet, a 4-year-old Red Bullet colt, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.7 under Donald Simington.
Muffin rallied from far back to win Saturday's $150,000 Elge Rasberry Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Cajun Conference. Dubai Star was third. Muffin, a Smart Strike filly, got the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.17 under Francisco Torres.