Expectations of a champion
Updated: August 29, 2010, 10:39 PM ETBy Claire Novak | Special to ESPN.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Here's the thing about a runner like 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra -- about any athlete, really, who has accomplished the extraordinary.We don't want the magic to end. We don't want Lance Armstrong to face another round of doping charges or Brett Favre to grow older and struggle to play. We don't want Andre Agassi to retire after losing the U.S. Open, or Tiger Woods to go winless through nine tournaments. We are idealists, and in life and especially in sport, we embrace perfection, the pursuit and attainment of it. As jockey Calvin Borel said Sunday at Saratoga Race Course, "Everybody expects a lot out of a winner." But the story rarely goes according to script.
Thirty minutes earlier, Borel was in the saddle aboard Rachel Alexandra, a filly who captured the hearts of racing fans last season with her stirring romps against girls in the Kentucky Oaks and over boys in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward Stakes. Together, they tried to make a comeback. They tried and they failed, beaten by one length by a 21-1 shot named Persistently. There had been a tremendous buildup, the New York Racing Association promoting "The Return of Rachel." There were posters and buttons and a crowd that turned out in the hopes of a stirring performance. It was not unlike anything you'll see in tennis, golf, basketball, football -- a former champ laying it on the line, everyone hoping that champ would deliver. Instead, in the aftermath, Rachel Alexandra's connections finally admitted what many people have been thinking. She's just not the horse she was last year. "She's a tremendous mare [but] she isn't exactly where she was," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who conditions the 4-year-old thoroughbred. "Hopefully she can get back there."
Horsephotos.comPersistently, left, caught Rachel Alexandra at the wire on Sunday.
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