HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Rachel Alexandra has been so dominant in her last three starts that it is difficult to gauge just how good she may be. There is a chance there won't be any more insight on Sunday, when she takes on four others in the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Rachel Alexandra will be an overwhelming favorite to win the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, which continues the Racing Festival of the South, when at least one stakes a day is run here through the close of the meet next Saturday.
The Fantasy will serve as Rachel Alexandra's springboard to the Grade 1, $500,000 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 1. Last year, the Fantasy produced two top-class fillies in Eight Belles, the winner who went on to run second in the Kentucky Derby, and Pure Clan, the third-place finisher who was also third in the Kentucky Oaks and then won the Grade 1 American Oaks. This year, the Fantasy is all about Rachel Alexandra.
She has won three stakes by a combined margin of 14 1/2 lengths in her last three starts, the latest the Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks. Her recent Beyer Speed Figures of 99, 100, and 103 are unmatched among her rivals. And, she also has a race over the track, the $50,000 Martha Washington here Feb. 15. Rachel Alexandra won the mile race by eight lengths. Needless to say, she more than has the respect of her rivals in the Fantasy.
"I'm afraid we're going to look like a Nascar race here, because I'm going to just draft behind Rachel Alexandra and maybe just settle for second," said Larry Jones, who trains three-time stakes winner Just Jenda. "I don't know that she can be beat. We may be running for second."
Rachel Alexandra turned in a career performance in the March 14 Fair Grounds Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race in which she went to the front on a sloppy track and easily put away her field to earn a 103 Beyer. She ran the distance in 1:43.55, compared to the time of 1:43.46 that Friesan Fire put up a few races later in the Louisiana Derby.
"I thought it was a bang-up race, I really did," said Hal Wiggins, who trains Rachel Alexandra for L and M Partners. "Her time difference to the Louisiana Derby was just hundredths of a second or whatever, and I was well pleased with it and well pleased with the way she came out of it."
Wiggins said Rachel Alexandra has put on a little weight since the Fair Grounds Oaks. And her final work for the Fantasy, in which she covered a half-mile in a bullet 47.60 seconds at her Oaklawn base April 1, was accomplished with exceptional ease.
"I think she's on top of her game," Wiggins said. "She was a little bit tired when she got back from New Orleans, the hauling there and the hauling back, and running and all of that, so we gave her two or three extra days, and I think she thrived on that. We wanted to give her a little more time, and I think that kind of got her back on her toes."
Rachel Alexandra, who won the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November, is scheduled to ship to Churchill next Wednesday or Thursday to begin preparations for the Kentucky Oaks. Wiggins said she could be freshened after that race, with her long-term goal the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga. But, he said, the focus right now is solely on the Fantasy. Rachel Alexandra will break from the rail under regular rider Calvin Borel.
Just Jenda, winner of the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes here March 15, could get her drafting trip from posto3 under Gabriel Saez. The others in the field are Bon Jovi Girl, a multiple route stakes winner last year at 2; Afleet Deceit, the runner-up in the Honeybee; and Cats, an $875,000 auction purchase by Storm Cat.