Back to normality. Somewhat, at the very least. Thanks to the recent easing of Irish lockdown restrictions open-air visitor attractions are allowed to reopen again.
Because I’m living in County Kildare I have the opportunity to visit the Irish National Stud. I haven’t been for more than a year. So it’s good to be back.
This is the best time of the year to visit the stud because the foals are born. It’s such a beautiful thing to observe: the special bond a mother and her foal have.
While the younger foals follow every step of their mum, the older ones have grown in confidence and somewhat independence. They can be seen having fun fooling around the fields.
It was a typical Irish May day with nearly all seasons present within a single hour. The foals didn’t mind, anyway.
Mums joined in the fun from time to time as well, to the bewilderment of the foals.
Royal Ascot hero Equiano – who is new to the Irish National Stud roster in 2021 – clearly has not lost any of his zest. He was flying around the paddock and enjoyed parading for the camera.
The living legends enjoyed the attention from the kids in the afternoon. Kicking King and Rite Of Passage were particularly keen on cuddles, and perhaps even more so keen on the treats they received over the fence. The almighty Hurricane Fly couldn’t be bothered and was lying far aware in the deep grass soaking up the sun.
Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I am writing a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Classy miler Paco Boy kicked off proceedings in part I – next up is a “filly for the ages”.
Usually US racing on dusty dirt isn’t my cup of tea. Yet, here on dirt it happened: a race I’ll never forget. It’s the 1st of May 2009, an unusually scorching hot day – I remember it vividly, sweating in front of the laptop in my stuffy living room (I was still living in Germany at that time).
Late evening, I’ve found a grainy stream from Churchill Downs: post parade for the Kentucky Oaks. This ridiculously short priced favourite heads the field – I throw a bit of money on Flying Spur, the second favourite. Not the wisest investment as it turns out.
Rachel Alexandra is three to one on in the betting. Little did I know about her at that point in time. Minutes later the racing world would know about her: hard on the bridle, she destroys her six rivals by 20 lengths – the widest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks… ever.
The “super filly” goes on to prove that such an otherworldly performance isn’t a fluke. She takes on the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Odds are staked against her: no filly has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1924. Rachel Alexandra enjoys to run from the front but has been dealt the widest draw on this day.
Yet jockey Calvin Borel gets Rachel Alexandra across to lead wire to wire: “And the filly did it!” screams an excited Tom Hammond in the commentators box. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes, doing so she’s defeating Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird.
Rachel Alexandra becomes a star that shines beyond the boundaries of horse racing. She features in “Vogue” magazine and a legion of fans follow her every move – so do I, although from far away. Still, those Saturdays in the summer of 2009 – “Rachel Saturdays” – are cherished memories to this day.
Only six weeks after the Preakness she romped home in the Mother Goose – only three rivals in her way, though leaving a multiple Grade one winner more than 30 lengths behind, nearly breaking Secretariat’s track record, if not for being heavily eased in the final furlong.
Another almighty performance against the boys in the Haskell Invitational Stakes – she makes it look so easy, beating Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird by six lengths on a muddy track, again running an incredibly fast time, despite the conditions, becoming the second filly in history to win the race,
A final ‘hallelujah’ in September saw Rachel Alexandra write history – once more – as the first filly to land the Woodward Stakes. This time in a dramatic finish, holding off the late charges from high class rivals after setting grueling early fractions from the front in her usual style. It leaves commentator Tom Durkin stunned as he concludes his call “She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra The Great!”.
2009 was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s – each for every month from May to September. She beats the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward – her spectacular three-year campaign is probably only matched by Sea The Stars on the other side of the globe!
That intense year took a toll on Rachel Alexandra. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same filly. Five more races, three of them end in defeat. She never reached the same heights again. After another shock defeat in August 2010 Rachel Alexandra is retired to become a broodmare.
She produced a colt and a filly but it turned out she wasn’t suited to the breeding game. She nearly died in the aftermath of the delivery of her second and final foal, Rachel’s Valentina.
To this day Rachel Alexandra has a loyal fanbase and they come to visit her at Stonestreet Farm. Once a year the “See Rachel Day” provides opportunity to those who are lucky enough to win a ticket to be invited to spend some time with the “Super Filly”.
There was something special about Rachel Alexandra as a race horse that made me follow her with passion throughout her career, but especially that magic summer of 2009: the white blaze across the face, you could easily make her out among a bunch of other horses.
An athletic, strong body and beautiful bay colour; alert and all heart when it mattered most, galloping her rivals into submission from the front.
I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful homage on Rachel Alexandra and her biggest victories – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!
Gerald Mosse is a master to handle tricky customers, and the filly he rides in this race is clearly a tricky one. Arendelle has a bit of talent, she already won at Sandown earlier this season over a mile quite impressively.
Subsequently, also striding out over further, she found live tougher off marks around 70. Her running style leaves her vulnerable and despite not beaten far mostly she found a way to get into trouble.
As happened the other day at Sandown when sixth at Sandown over 10f. Arendelle steps up another couple of furlongs now which should suit. Also trying Tapeta for the first time may eke out improvement as her sire Camelot has gotten quite a few winners over middle-distances here already. Dropping to 66 handicap mark gives her a big chance if Mosse can steer her clear trouble.
I love jockey cams. We need more of them. They provide incredible insight into how a race is run and what it looks and feels like from jockey’s perspective.
As the armchair jockey I am, I do relish those rare insights immensely. So all the happier I was when this incredible footage of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race emerged – uploaded by the official Breeders’ Cup Youtube Channel!
Ride with Mike Smith and win the race on Caledonia Road – a 20/1 upset – how he gets rolling from the back of the field to make progress on the outside and eventually brings the bacon home.
For full context: the race replay can be watched here. Fair to say it was a hell of a ride!