Remembering Rachel Alexandra’s Dazzling, Hall-of-Fame Career

Legends
Rachel Alexandra on her way to the racetrack at Pimlico Race Course, where she won the 2009 Preakness Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

I was 16 years old in 2009. To think back that far is to think about a time before SAT prep, before the college search and before summer internships. To think back to 2009 is also to remember the best racing year of my life: the year of Rachel Alexandra.

I was fortunate to attend the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby in person. In the days leading up to the weekend, I knew that the Derby field was supposed to be evenly matched (who would have thought that Mine that Bird would prove us wrong?). I also knew that the Oaks field contained a potential superstar in the form of a bay filly with a unique blaze and a name that seemed more appropriate for a human than for a horse.

What I did not know then was that I would come to revere this horse. The horse who would soon be known simply as Rachel.

Like most people, I expected that Rachel would win the Kentucky Oaks, but it was not until the race unfolded in front of me that I realized we were in the presence of something special. Horses do not win Grade 1 races by more than 20 lengths. Horses running two turns on the dirt do not complete their final eighth of a mile in 12 seconds. Rachel did both … without being asked. The image of Calvin Borel patting Rachel’s neck as they breezed down the stretch at Churchill Downs burns in my memory more than seven years later. I frequently watch the replay of the race, and I am in awe every time.

2009 KENTUCKY OAKS

After her 20 ¼-length Kentucky Oaks romp, I was a Rachel fanatic for life. The 2009 Preakness Stakes was the only Preakness I have watched in which I was not rooting for the Kentucky Derby winner. Of course, I was rooting for Rachel. And, of course, she prevailed.

For the rest of Rachel’s racing career, her races took top priority over everything else. I ended plans with friends early, arrived at parties late or entirely avoided committing to events if I thought there was a chance that Rachel would be running on the same day. I am sure that my non-racing friends thought I was crazy to revolve my life around a horse (and maybe some racing fans do, too), but looking back, I would not have wanted it any other way.

It might be hard to imagine, but social media, especially Twitter, was not nearly as prominent in 2009 and 2010 as it is now. Today, workouts are often streamed live online, or, at the very least, someone Tweets about them immediately. When Rachel was training, I could not check my phone for up-to-the-minute reports. Instead, I spent my lunch periods on my high school’s computers, combing through the internet to try to read about her workouts. Considering that my school placed a security block on gambling websites, keeping up with Rachel became an art form.

I was admittedly devastated when I heard that Rachel was retired from racing. This was not just because I would miss her magnificence on the track, but also because I expected her to slip out of public consciousness, as most broodmares do.

Alexa Ravit visiting Rachel Alexandra. (Courtesy of Alexa Ravit)

However, thanks to the generosity of Stonestreet Farm, fans have been treated to regular updates on Rachel’s life at the farm. Even better, Stonestreet has opened up their gates on several occasions to allow hundreds of fans, myself included, to visit her.

I will not be in attendance when Rachel Alexandra is inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Friday. However, I will be watching the ceremony online.

A lot has changed for Rachel and me since she last stepped on a racetrack. This month, I will be entering my final year pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. Rachel has produced two winning foals, and she now spends her time grazing rather than outrunning the boys (lucky for them!).

What has not changed, and probably will never change, is that Rachel Alexandra was the most spectacular filly I have ever seen. In fact, I think I’ll go watch her 2009 campaign right now.


2009 PREAKNESS STAKES

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