MACHO WOMAN! RACHEL TAKES THE WOODWARD - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report


By Ray Paulick
Rachel Alexandra won Saturday's $750,000 Woodward by a diminishing head over Macho Again, making history by becoming the first filly or mare to win the historic Grade 1 race, run over 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga.

Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick’s 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro kept her perfect 2009 record intact, winning for the eighth time this year, defeating males for the third time, and making her first venture in the older horse category a successful one.

While the margin of victory was the smallest of her 11 career victories (from 14 starts), the now-almost certain pick for Horse of the Year was under pressure every step of the way in the 56th running of the Woodward. First it was the 2008 Belmont Stakes winner, Da’ Tara, who pushed Rachel Alexandra through a sizzling opening quarter mile in :22.85 seconds and a half in :46.41. Then it was Past the Point, who forced Jackson’s two-time Horse of the Year Curlin to the limit in last year’s Woodward. Past the Point ranged up alongside, as Rachel Alexandra ran the first six furlongs in 1:10.54.  And then Whitney winner Bullsbay came up to challenge as the field rounded the final turn.

Borel sat chilly on Rachel Alexandra to the top of the stretch, then inside the three-sixteenths pole asked her for everything she had, first going to a right-handed whip, giving her two taps on the right flank, then switching to the left hand, hitting her five times, then switching back over to the right hand, striking her a dozen times or more with every stride she took to the wire.

Macho Again raced far back early as the trailer, saved some ground into the stretch and then closed resolutely. Robbie Albarado appeared to have to straighten out the son of Macho Uno as he was leaning in on Bullsbay inside the eighth pole, losing some momentum, but the wire came just in time for Rachel and Borel. Bullsbay finished third. Asiatic Boy, who made a wide move while appearing to be a threat around the final bend, finished fourth, and he was followed by It's a Bird, Past the Post, Cool Coal Man, and Da' Tara, who was eased.

Rachel Alexandra covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.29, after a mile clocking in 1:35.48. She carried 118 pounds, getting an eight-pound age and sex allowance from her older male rivals. Steve Asmussen has trained Rachel Alexandra to her last four victories, taking over from Hal Wiggins after Jackson and McCormick bought the filly following her 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks. She then reeled off wins in the Preakness Stakes over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont, and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park against colts. She had race previously for her breeder, Dolphus Morrison. Rachel Alexandra was produced from the Roar mare, Lotta Kim.

Rachel Alexandra tossed Calvin Borel in the post parade but didn’t get loose from the outrider. Borel had taken his left foot out of the stirrups as Rachel Alexandra was tossing her head started to brush with the outrider’s pony. Just then, she threw her head up and down and appeared to catch Borel in the head with her nose, throwing him to the ground. He quickly remounted, and Rachel Alexandra didn’t seem to lose her composure in the incident.

Rachel Alexandra paid $2.60 to win as the heavy favorite.

Rachel Alexandra joins a roster of legendary Thoroughbreds to have won the Woodward, which until 2006 had been run at Aqueduct or Belmont Park. Among the previous winners of the race were Kelso, Buckpasser, Damascus, Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Easy Goer, Holy Bull, Cigar, Ghostzapper, and Curlin. With the record she has compiled — 11 wins in 14 starts and earnings of $2,948,354 – Rachel Alexandra easily deserves to mentioned in the same sentence as any of them.

Click here to see a video of Rachel Alexandra's historic Woodward victory. 

Click here for the official chart.

The Woodward attracted a crowd of 31,171, many of whom wore “Rachel” buttons given away by the New York Racing Association.

New York Racing Association Press Office Woodward Post-Race Quotes

Winning Connections


“I thought she truly showed she was a champion today. I can’t say enough, first of all, about Jess and the guts they’ve shown by continuously putting out there and raising the bar with a tremendous filly. I’m just extremely proud to be associated with her. I’m proud of the whole team, (assistant trainer) Scott Blasi, (exercise rider) Dominic Terry, it was a very emotional win.”


“Honestly, I thought she was going to let Da’ Tara and Past the Point go. But it didn’t work out that way.”


“A lot gets said about the other mare [Zenyatta] and what’s next, but I think we ought to focus on exactly what happened today.”


[What will he look for in the coming days?] “I’ll watch her appetite, I  rely heavily on Scott and Dominic … every single little nuance about her, how she acts in her stall, exactly how long it takes her to eat, the whole nine yards. The filly has been tremendously consistent and we’ve been blessed with her consistency as well as her greatness.”


“I was most concerned of any of the races we’ve been in. I thought [there was] a crucial period of time two weeks ago, the weather didn’t cooperate, it wasn’t exactly ideal. A lot of muddy tracks, concern about the work — we brought her over and worked on the main track instead of Oklahoma like we were wanting to. There were variables we hadn’t faced in her previous races. It was a challenge for her.”


“When Jess has been presented with options, he has taken the toughest one every time.”


*          *          *


Winning owner, Jess Jackson of Rachel Alexandra: “You worry about every race. You worry more about her coming out of the race safely. There was a moment there, with those early fractions, I was concerned.


“She’s been tested early two or three times now, and she’s had the courage and fortitude to finish, and with an attitude to hang in there and win. That’s a very exceptional horse, male or female, and for her to do that with six giant males racing with her was something special. I don’t know if you saw it, but she looked like she was only a 3-year-old with those horses. And yet she held in there with her spirit. I want to thank Saratoga. It’s always been a special place for me and my family and racing. And Curlin won this same race last year so it has special meaning for me and our team and I hope for Steve as well. What we need now are more stars, and I think she is one. I hope we can see her come out healthy, give her a nice race and give you a campaign in 2010.”


For the owners, I want to thank Steve and Scott and Amy and all the crew, the exercise [riders]. We have a team that has been exceptional, particularly for her. And I’ve got to thank Calvin; he kept her out of trouble today. She could have been easily boxed in with two speed horses with 1 and 7, and they were both part of a team that would normally, paired up, take a rabbit and run. She became the rabbit and she still persevered. That was an exceptional race, and I appreciate everbody’s support here in Saratoga. The fans have been great as well.”



“There’s a little bit of communication though. The confidence the team shows in her workouts and in her training and whether she’s gaining weight and whether she’s getting her sleep – the Z’s matter you know. She’s pretty calm around the stable. Those kinds of things have to be part of the formula, and I’ve got an instinct to try to put another hurdle up to see if she can achieve it, and I’m so delighted this campaign worked out well because you know whose neck would have been on the line.”


On Zenyatta: “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.”


Horse of  the Year? “Somebody else will decide that, but I hope so. I think she’s something for the ages and she’s certainly proven her mettle. On the earlier question about her attitude, she is a fighter. After blazing those fractions and in the Haskell, she still won. And maybe this wasn’t a pull-away victory, but if we run her again, the next one will be. She was, in my opinion, a little down today, but she still won and that’s the courage and fight she has.”


Another race in 2009?: “I can’t honestly say. Hal (Harold McCormick) and I will have to talk about it and Steve’s going to have to bless her coming out and what her condition is. She’s run more races than Zenyatta’s run, and Zenyatta’s 5 years old. You can’t expect a young youngster – she’s only 3 – running against older horses, running against older mares – you can’t expect them to keep going all the time. You have to give them a break, and we’ll talk that over very seriously.”


On Calvin’s victory celebration: “I don’t know if you saw it, but I gave him the signal to go V, because I went V, he went V. Calvin is a fully honest and emotional person. He is a fair rider. He takes chances at times but you can depend on Calvin with Rachel. They are really a mating of rider and horse that’s for the ages.”

*          *          *


Winning jockey Calvin Borel on the pre-race incident in which he was unseated during the Post Parade: “She was pretty keyed up. She went to duck away. The pony guy did a good job of turning her loose. When the fans hollered real loud, it just scared her. I can’t blame her. When a crowd hollers all at one time, it kind of surprised her. It took me by surprise.


On the race itself: “She was a little aggressive. Steve had talked to me during the week and said, ‘She might be a little bit fresh. So, save me some horse for the last 40 or 50 yards, or sixteenth of a mile.’  I’m glad he had told me that because I rode her a little bit more confident and sitting chilly until it was time to go. He was right about everything. For the last 40 or 50 yards, she had enough. We went pretty rapid and I knew we were going pretty rapid. I never took anything away from her as long as I had been riding her. I’m not going to change. I knew we were stepping up against older horses. I think she was as good as them, or better.


On Macho Again approaching her during the stretch run: “She would never let him go by her. Every time he went up to her, she would dig in again. Even galloping out, I said to Robby, ‘You ain’t going by us.’ She is such a tremendous filly. He ran up to her three times and she kept giving me a little bit more.


“I switched sticks on her twice. That’s more than I have ever done. Hitting her is not going to make her run faster. I think when a horse is going to come up to her, I think that’s when you will see her run. She does what she has to do. She was going fast enough. I never beat her up. I barely tap her because she gives me everything she’s got. She was a little tired.


“She’s a champion. She’s the reason we come here.  We did a lot today. Today, we made history which nobody ever did it. It was a big [weight] off of me because I wanted to win this race really bad. It’s like winning the Kentucky Derby. I knew she was good enough to do it and I had to go out there and not mess it up.”


Winning trainer Steve Asmussen of Rachel Alexandra: “[Calvin getting dumped before the race] wasn’t a concern after she won. I’m nervous about everything. I’m nervous until they put her number up. I’m very proud of the outcome.  The (fractions) might have taken a couple of years off my life, but it’s worth it.

Steve Asmussen, winning trainer, Rachel Alexandra (No. 3 ): “I can’t say enough about the race she put in today under the circumstances. It means so much to me and everyone involved with her. For Jess and  Barbara to allow us the opportunity to run her in these races, I can’t say enough. She came through today like a true champion. At 22 and change, I started worrying . I worried until they put her number up.  I can’t say how proud of her I am. Her performance, under the pressure that she always is, stepping up and raising her game … what a tremendous victory today. She didn’t lope along on the lead or anything today. She’s a spectacular athlete.”


Calvin Borel, winning jockey aboard Rachel Alexandra (No. 3 ): “It was a great race.  She stepped up and proved to be the best.  If she won it would have been good.  If she had lost, it still would have been good.  She’s a three-year-old that went up against older horses, who knows how good she is?


“She was a little aggressive early, but I was comfortable.  Five weeks – she was real fresh.  I was comfortable, the last forty yards I was a little worried, but she just kept digging in.  She’s unbelievable.”


Jess Jackson, winning owner, Rachel Alexandra (No. 3): “Wow…The ride was perfect.  She was ready.  Those are a lot of big animals that she was running against, but she showed her speed, she showed her class and she didn’t give up.  That’s my Rachel.  [Her next start] depends on how she comes out of the race.  I hope she’s sound, then it would be a question of whether there’s something adequate for her.”


Dallas Stewart, trainer of runner-up Macho Again (No. 4 ): “I knew it was going to be a great race. I knew he was ready. I’m never happy to be second, but it turns out like that and as they say in New Orleans, ‘It be’s like that.’ A couple more jumps, we might have got her. But she’s great. That’s horse racing. She’s eight for eight.”


Robby Albarado, jockey aboard runner up Macho Again (No. 4 ): “She’s a champion. Champions do that. Champions find ways to win.


“I never thought I had her. You never think you have champions. She’s a great filly. The only thing I was hoping was that at some point she would tire or do something. She’s great. What can I say. Nothing much I can say. She’s great.


“The pace was great. I can’t keep Macho any closer than he is because it would compromise his chances.  I was far back. I didn’t realize they were rocking and rolling up front but I knew there were going fast. I was hoping someone would soften her up but obviously they didn’t. I wasn’t surprised she was on the lead. She’s naturally quick.


“Champions show different dimension. She is in a league of her own. She has beaten every top division we have in racing. Older horses, her age, it doesn’t matter. No matter what they throw at her, she’ll beat them.”



H. Graham Motion, trainer of third-place finisher Bullsbay (No. 2): “I thought he ran huge and the winner was extraordinary. My horse hooked her at the quarter pole and gave her a race, but maybe that took a bit out of her. This is what it’s all about.”


Jeremy Rose, jockey aboard third-place finisher Bullsbay (No. 2): “My horse left everything on the track. He did everything he could to get by that [filly]. She just isn’t giving up. She’s awesome; there’s no two ways about it.


“The fractions were fast and I thought I was in a perfect spot to catch her. At the quarter-pole, I split Edgar Prado (on Past the Point) and her and I got within a neck of her and she just rebroke. She’s just too good of a horse.


“I thought I had a shot at the top of the stretch. I always think I have a shot on this horse. He always tries and shows up. Just today, she’s just a better horse.”


Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Ask Ray?

Have a question for Ray that you'd like answered? Have a news tip? Ray will go to his network of sources in pursuit of an answer.

Ask Ray