Rachel blows away colts
As the field for the Haskell Invitational approached the starting gate and the rain-reduced crowd of 37,090 roared with anticipation, Darren Asmussen turned to his father, Steve, the trainer of superstar filly Rachel Alexandra, said, "I got goose bumps."
Steve Asmussen rubbed his middle son's back and said, "I do too, buddy."
A short time later, so did the entire Monmouth Park grandstand after Rachel Alexandra swept past the pace-setting Munnings and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird and drew off to a six-length victory in the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational over a sloppy main track.
Summer Bird, who was surprisingly close to the pace under Kent Desormeaux, edged away from Munnings to get second by one length. Munnings was third and followed in the order of finish by Papa Clem, Duke of Mischief, Atomic Rain and Bunker Hill.
It was the seventh victory in as many starts this year for Rachel Alexandra -- including the Preakness Stakes -- her eighth in a row and 10th in 13 lifetime starts. She beat boys for the second time this year, the first time a 3-year-old filly has done that since Serena's Song in 1995. Serena's Song is the only other filly to have won the Haskell in 42 runnings.
"It's surreal to witness what we've done, I mean we're talking about a race that I got [two-time Horse of the Year] Curlin beat in," said Asmussen, who took over the training of Rachel Alexandra 10 days before the Preakness. "It isn't a given."
Pouring rain turned the Monmouth main track into a sea of slop reminiscent of the two-day Breeders' Cup event held here in 2007. There were two spills earlier in the card that resulted in injuries to jockeys Fabrizio Jiminez and Pedro Cotto -- one was on the turf -- but at no time did the connections of Rachel Alexandra consider scratching her from the race.
The rain had stopped in the middle of the day and the sun even poked its head through the clouds ever so briefly. Those who braved the elements to come to Monmouth got what they wanted from Rachel Alexandra.
After breaking a step slow, Rachel Alexandra took up a stalking position outside of Munnings, who ran an opening quarter in 22.99 seconds under John Velazquez. Noting the time, Asmussen, while watching the race with his parents, wife and three sons, said, "They're rolling, man."
Rachel Alexandra continued to race just outside of Summer Bird while Munnings set fractions of 46.43 and 1:09.92 for the opening six furlongs. Around the far turn, Rachel Alexandra got in gear and she passed her two male rivals by the quarter pole. Calvin Borel said he remained busy on her in the upper stretch because his filly was starting to look around. But in the last 50 yards, Borel got in celebration mode, pointing to the filly as she crossed the finish line.
Rachel Alexandra covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.21, which is 1:47 1/5 when translated to fifths. That is just one-fifth off the stakes record set by Majestic Light (1976) and equaled by Bet Twice (1987) when times were not available in hundredths.
Borel, who has ridden Rachel Alexandra to eight straight victories, does not think that was Rachel Alexandra's best performance. The preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 116 suggests that it is.
"Nah, she run a better race than that," he said. "I thought the Preakness was a top performance coming out of the 13 hole and knowing going in that she wasn't 100 [percent] she still laid it down for me. She run today, but I knew she'd win today and I come in with so much confidence today it was unbelievable. Till the day they hook me and give her the eye I don't know how good she is."
What is also unknown is where and when Rachel Alexandra will run next. She was shipped back to Saratoga on Sunday night and if she races there, the two most logical spots would be the Travers on Aug. 29 or the Woodward, against older males, on Sept. 5.
Both Asmussen and Jackson said they want to see how the filly comes out of the race before determining their next move.
"I don't know what frontier she's going to conquer next, she does so well every time we raise the bar that we have to consider all options," Jackson said. "At the same she's going to tell us when she's ready to run."
Tim Ice, the trainer of Summer Bird, said he would like to run in the Travers, but not against Rachel.
"We'll take a look at the Travers," he said. "If she's in there, she's in there. I'm not going to invite her."
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