Stackin’ Cheddar: Looking Back on Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra’s First Win

Future Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra, above in June 2009, was a relative unknown in her second career start and paid $27 to win. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This marks the latest edition of “Stackin’ Cheddar: Looking Back”, a new biweekly series on America’s Best Racing. Here, we’ll look back on an early race in the careers of some of the greatest horses of all time, including spots where they went off at a big price.

June 13, 2008

Maiden Special Weight

Race 8, Churchill Downs

Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen arrived at Churchill Downs on the second weekend of June 2008 on top of the racing world. Their defending Horse of the Year, Curlin, was set to run in the Stephen Foster Handicap that weekend in his first start since a victory in the Dubai World Cup. He won by 4 ¼ lengths as the odds-on favorite en route to another Horse of the Year title.

The day before, a superstar filly they would someday own and train, respectively, made her second career start. Rachel Alexandra debuted on May 22 at Churchill and was a well-beaten sixth for owner-breeder Dolphus Morrison and trainer Hal Wiggins. Off that effort, she was given a 12.50-1 chance in a nine-horse field for her second start June 13 under the Twin Spires.

Ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr, she broke like a shot and quickly opened up a clear lead. As the field turned for home, favored Best Lass issued a challenge and it looked like she would roll by Rachel Alexandra. However, under vigorous urging from Hernandez, she fought back, and the two fillies dueled down the Churchill stretch. In the last sixteenth of a mile, Rachel Alexandra pulled clear and won by 1 ¼ lengths.

Asmussen, who saddled two horses in that race, may have been duly impressed but he never could’ve imagined the role Rachel Alexandra would play in his career. Eleven months later, after she won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 ¼ lengths, Jackson, along with Harold McCormick, bought the filly and transferred her to Asmussen. She then embarked on a memorable campaign which included a win in the Preakness Stakes 15 days later, an impressive victory in the Haskell Invitational Stakes, and a historic win against older male horses in the Woodward Stakes. She won the 2009 Horse of the Year title, giving Jackson and Asmussen three consecutive Horse of the Year awards.

1. Rachel Alexandra $27.00 $7.20 $5.00
2. Best Lass $2.80 $2.40
3. C.S. Silk $3.60

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