#1 – The Woodward

THE INTRIGUE

After a filly has already won seven stakes races, defeated males twice, subjugated horses of her own gender, there isn’t much more you can ask of her.  However, owner Jess Jackson was hellbent on testing Rachel Alexandra and thus he scheduled a date with her in the Woodward.  She was bidding to become the first filly to win the Woodward, a race that had been won by past champions like Curlin, Saint Liam, Ghostzapper, and Mineshaft just in this decade.  Her competition was to include the winners of the Whitney, Stephen Foster, New Orleans Handicap, Lone Star Park Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, and Alysheba Handicaps just this year.

THE PLAYERS

The story of the Woodward was certainly Rachel Alexandra as she went postward at odds of 3-10 despite being only a 3YO filly facing older males.  She had withstood every challenge thrown her way so far in 2009 and entered the Woodward off of a tremendously impressive effort in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.  She was definitely going to meet some pace pressure in this spot as 2008 Belmont winner Da’ Tara had plenty of speed, Past the Point was coming in off a win at 7fs and ran a game 2nd to Curlin in the 2008 Woodward, and Cool Coal Man entered off of a 12+ length win at Saratoga in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 107.  Her task was mighty but she was deserving of heavy favoritism. 

Macho Again quietly accumulated a strong 2009 campaign as he followed up a win in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds with a win in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.  His most recent effort before this event was the Whitney in which he closed gamely in the waning stages to narrowly miss and finish 2nd.  He had proven Saratoga was his kind of track as he won the 2008 Jim Dandy over this surface before enduring a terrible trip in the Travers.  He was in career best form prior to the Woodward and that made him a formidable challenger and a reasonable bet at 8-1.

Bullsbay was a versatile horse who had also enjoyed a strong 2009 while traveling from coast to coast.  He won the Whitney despite being an 18-1 outsider.  Afer a poor effort in the Donn, he won the Johnson Memorial at Laurel and the Alysheba at Churchill.  He lost a decision to Macho Again in the Foster but rebounded from a failed bid in the Hollywood Gold Cup with his Whitney score.  He was anothe coming into this event in career-best form and stood a big chance with the expected hot pace.

THE OUTCOME

In two images you can see the story of the Woodward and that was how the pace developed. 

IMAGE #1 – The field rounds the first turn

Before a quarter-mile was complete, Rachel Alexandra was under fire.  She had Da’Tara to her inside and Past the Point to her outside through an opening quarter in :22 and 4/5.  It would be a long run down the backstretch for the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, under fire for the entire journey.

IMAGE #2 – The field turns for home

With the swift fractions highlighted, you can see the positioning of the late runners, Bullsbay and Macho Again, relative to where they were only five furlongs earlier.  Rachel had shrugged off the challenges of all the pace pressers by this point in time and her courage would soon be tested for the stretch drive.

Things didn’t look so great for Rachel inside the eighth pole as the gray presence to her outside, Macho Again, was narrowing the gap with every stride.  Jockey Calvin Borel reached down for more from his filly than he ever had before and she delivered, capping an absolutely riveting stretch drive.  Click here to listen to the fans’ reaction to the stretch drive, shot from the Clubhouse at old Saratoga.

With a couple of items highlighted to fully embrace the performance of Rachel Alexandra, the DRF chart makes it clear that she won the battle and the war.  Such a tremendous effort from a 3YO filly will not soon be forgotten.

THE AFTERMATH

Shortly after the Woodward, the racing world’s attention was focused on Rachel Alexandra and if she might treat her fans to another performance in 2009.  Her connections came out a couple of weeks after her latest triumph and said that she would be shut down for the year and is currently gearing up for a 2010 campaign.  Her legacy is already incredible as her accomplishments went well beyond anything ever done by a 3YO filly.  She set records for margin of victory in the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose, became the first filly to win the Woodward, and was the 1st filly to win the Preakness in over 80 years. 

Rachel is currently locked in a media-driven battle with Zenyatta for Horse of the Year, which will be announced at the Eclipse Awards on January 18, 2009.  I’m not going to get into that in this particular entry but only a portion of what Rachel did this year has been re-capped here and her accomplishments speak for themselves.

THE RACE

Enjoy this historic running of the Woodward:

Thank you for reading and I’d like to thank everyone who helped me compile this list.  Nick Kling of the Troy Record, Steve Byk, host of At the Races, Pat Cummings of Dubairacenight.com, and Travis Stone of Louisiana Downs all contributed their top 10 lists and there was only one race where the voting was unanimous- the Woodward.

All Charts and Past Performances provided by Daily Racing Form (drf.com).  Still photos courtesy of Youtube (www.youtube.com).

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