A leading lady leaves racing’s stage: Rachel Alexandra is retired after disappointing season

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2009 Horse of Year Rachel Alexandra retired

Rachel Alexandra’s undefeated season in 2009 won her Horse of the Year honors and electrified a down-on-its-luck industry. Though the sensational filly is leaving racing’s stage, a future breeding date with another superstar could make things interesting.

Having won only two of five races this year, Rachel Alexandra was retired Tuesday, with co-owner Jess Jackson saying it was time to “reward her with a less stressful life.” He said she would be bred to Curlin, the 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year, at Jackson’s Stonestreet Farm in Lexington, Ky.

“Imagine what possibilities those two super horses might produce,” said Jackson, who owns a majority stake in Curlin.

The popular 4-year-old Rachel caused quite a stir last year when she won all eight of her races. Ridden by Calvin Borel, she beat fillies by 20 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks and 19 lengths in the Mother Goose Stakes before taking on the boys and winning the Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes.

“The industry is going to miss her,” said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rides Rachel’s rival, Zenyatta.

Rachel had 13 wins in 19 starts and earned more than $3.4 million. In her last start, she finished second to Persistently in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 29 in what was her first race at 1¼ miles and her only Grade 1 of the year.

“As a 3-year-old, she set standards and records that no filly before her ever achieved, and I suspect it will be quite a while before a 3-year-old filly ever equals or surpasses her achievements,” Jackson said. “Although her fans were thrilled by a series of spectacular victories, I believe they, as we, were simply awed time and again by her sheer beauty, courage and athleticism.”

Off the track, Jackson used her success to help raise money for various charitable causes including cancer research by auctioning off items related to Rachel.

He said Rachel never returned to her 2009 form despite what he described as “top training and a patient campaign.”

Smith was surprised to learn of Rachel’s retirement, although he praised Jackson for putting his horse first.

“If he didn’t feel she was running up to par, why keep it up?” the jockey told The Associated Press by phone from California. “You can risk injury. She’ll be great as a mother. We’ll look forward to seeing what they make.”

Smith watched all of Rachel’s races.

“As quick she was, she had a lot of stamina and she could carry that speed a long ways,” he said. “I know she hasn’t been racing up to her standards as far as having a sensational year. Even in defeat, I thought she’s run very, very well.”

Her retirement puts an end to speculation that she and Zenyatta, with an 18-0 career record, would meet on the track. They never did, despite an offer of a $5 million purse if Rachel and Zenyatta raced in the Apple Blossom in April at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park.

Jackson declined, with trainer Steve Asmussen saying Rachel needed more time to get back into racing shape after a six-month layoff.

Zenyatta is set to run in Saturday’s $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes at her home track of Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.

After a spectacular 8-0 season last year, expectations were high for Rachel this season.

But she finished second to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds in March, followed by another narrow loss, to Unrivaled Belle, in the La Troienne a month later at Churchill Downs.

That forced Asmussen to rethink his game plan for the filly, who was being pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup in November at Churchill Downs.

In June, Rachel won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill by 10½ lengths, a convincing win but not against the strongest competition. In July, she won the Lady’s Secret by three lengths at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park after fighting off a challenge by a filly named Queen Martha.

Asmussen trained both Rachel and Curlin for Jackson, the founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Northern California who co-owned Rachel with Harold McCormick.

“I have been blessed to have been part of history,” Asmussen said. “We are all very fortunate that Rachel carried the banner following Curlin’s amazing success story. The fans adored her. We all did. She had the most fluid and beautiful stride of any horse I have ever seen. It’s been quite a ride.”

Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said Rachel’s performance as a 3-year-old “was nothing short of historic, both for its flawlessness and its ambition.”

“Rachel Alexandra provided countless thrills to fans all around the world, and all of us now undoubtedly look forward to the racing exploits of her offspring,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Fair Grounds in Louisiana said it would run the Rachel Alexandra Stakes in her honor on Feb. 19. The $150,000 race for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1-16 miles was previously known as the Silverbulletday Stakes, a name that will be used for another race.

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