Bill Mott stopped his pony along the outside rail of the Oklahoma training track Friday morning. The Hall of Fame trainer had something to say to future Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
“Man, that filly looked good in the paddock,” Mott said. “I watched her walk around there and was like . . . ‘whoa.’ She’s carrying weight, her hair looks great.”
“She’s putting in the work,” Asmussen said. “Being so much quieter here, the training track, horses do really well up here. Not that it translates to a win.”
“No, nothing’s that simple,” Mott said. “She’s still got to go around there but you couldn’t ask for her to look any better. At this time of year and the fact that she ran this winter, pretty impressive.”
Rachel Alexandra, who impressed Hall of Famers while schooling in the paddock Thursday, takes on her next challenge in today’s Grade I Woodward.
She’s whipped 3-year-old fillies, she’s trounced 3-year-old colts. Now, she’s going after older horses in the 56th running of the $750,000 stakes going 9 furlongs.
She’s 1-2 on the morning line.
“It’s exciting. She looks beautiful, she schooled great,” Asmussen said as he walked back to his barn Friday morning. “Tall task. It’s a little more out of the box, there’s no comparisons; there’s no ‘he ran against her,’ the other races you could get some kind of line. They don’t even have similar races on similar racetracks.”
Owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick, Rachel Alexandra began her eight-stakes win streak back in November when she finished her 2-year-old season by dominating the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro won the Martha Washington in February, the Fair Grounds Oaks in March, the Fantasy in April, the Kentucky Oaks – and Preakness – in May, the Mother Goose in June and the Haskell in August. In there somewhere she transferred from Hal Wiggins to Asmussen. She’s won 10 of her 13 starts and nearly $2.5 million.
“I’m excited to run her, it’s fun to run the fast ones. She’s tremendous,” Asmussen said. “When Jess purchased her, it was to see. Just like Curlin, considering running him in the Arc, Jess isn’t going to pass away wondering ‘what if’ is he? I imagine when somebody’s accomplished all that he has in his life, you don’t do what he’s done by not thinking out of the box.”
Jackson put his money up to buy Rachel Alexandra and has set out to climb mountains with the ballet dancer of a filly. She’s trained all meet at Saratoga, coaxing fans to come out in the dark to see her Monday morning breezes. She shipped to Monmouth to wallop Belmont winner (and eventual Travers winner) Summer Bird and Munnings. She came back like she went to Stewart’s for a coffee.
Before the Kentucky Oaks in May, Rachel Alexandra galloped like she was being chased; every day was a struggle between exercise rider and horse. At Saratoga, she’s fallen into a routine, a rhythm that would make Miles Davis proud.
“We’re at Saratoga, it’s beautiful, what a great place to be in the summer with the cool weather we’ve had lately. I think she’s carrying very good weight, her coat looks good, circumstances allow for it,” Asmussen said. “Oklahoma allows that a lot. I love the Oklahoma track mainly because of that; no grandstand, trees, a long walk home, it allows for it, that’s one of the reasons we love it here.”
Consider Asmussen content with Rachel Alexandra’s health and preparation, but he’s been to too many gun fights to think she doesn’t have to be ready to lock and load against seven rivals who have won stakes such as the Belmont, Whitney, Stephen Foster and Oaklawn Park Handicap. In all, her seven competitors own 44 victories for more than $8.5 million. Last year, Asmussen won the Woodward with Curlin who had to run hard to knock off Past The Point, who returns – a year older and off an impressive allowance score earlier in the meet – to take on Rachel Alexandra.
“I definitely think it’s tougher, when you get into an older group, how’s that saying go, ‘I may not be as fast as I once was, but once I was as fast as I ever was.’ However that goes, you’ll look back on everybody in there and see a crazy-good race,” Asmussen said. “It’s as simple as last year, if Past The Point runs the same race as he did last year, coming off a win and a crazy-good work, she’s got to be as good as Curlin to beat him and I know what a tall order that is. But, she’s a blessing. What a blessing. She’s happy and confident.”