09/05/2009 5:58AM

Beating Rachel: Making a Point

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From a speed-figure perspective, the Woodward Stakes looks like Rachel all the way. But pace figures tell a different story: she's a deserving odds-on favorite, but you don't have to be a cynic to at least visualize a blueprint for her defeat.

Rachel Alexandra's toughest competition could come from Past the Point, whose runnerup finish to Jess Jackson's Horse of the Year Curlin in last summer's Woodward is thus far the high point of his career. The Darley/Godolphin barn is in good form, his sprint prep was solid, and his speed is more effective on dirt than Southern California's synthetic tracks.  Against Curlin and a confirmed frontrunner in Wanderin Boy last year, jockey Edgar Prado let Past the Point roll on the front end, seizing a clear lead through MPF splits of 88-93-102-101 to a final number of 96.

Like his former Zito stablemate Wanderin Boy, Da Tara is known as a speed horse, too, and going to the front is his only hope, especially from the No. 1 post.  But you have to go back a full year to find solid pace numbers for Da Tara, and his 80-89-92 through six furlongs of the 2008 Jim Dandy not only fail to match up with Past the Point, but led to a stretch meltdown. Three weeks later, Da Tara finished a better fifth in the Travers, but only after holding a slim lead through a pace of 79-86-93. In other words, if Prado again wants to make an aggressive play for the lead with Past the Point, he could get it.

And what would that mean for Rachel Alexandra?  Another performance by Past the Point similar to last year's Woodward could very well make it interesting.  In the Mother Goose, Rachel willingly rated off a speed duel with pacefigs of 83-90-94. In the Haskell, she tracked the pace in 75-85-93. Way back in March's Fair Grounds Oaks, she set the pace with 85-83-88.  So for all her accomplishments, Rachel Alexandra has yet to face the kind of speed Past the Point showed a year ago, and although it would seem she has the talent and temperament to deal with pretty much anything, what happens if she can't breeze to the lead at will like she has every other time this year? What happens if she's still chasing Past the Point at the quarter pole?  What happens if she actually isn't a running machine and regresses slightly?

Of course, Prado is no cinch to take the race to Da' Tara leaving the gate, and even if he does, there is no guarantee Past the Point is as sharp or fit as a year ago, when he prepped for the Woodward with a 1 1/8-mile allowance score.  But that's also why Past the Point is 15-1 in the program line.

I'll repeat what I've been saying since the Kentucky Oaks: Rachel Alexandra is the fastest American dirt filly since Ruffian - and although it's impossible to accurately compare the two, in the past few months her on-paper career achievements have exceeded those of Ruffian. In my eyes, this would remain true even if she doesn't become the first filly to win the Woodward.
But for those coldhearted and analytical horseplayers inclined to try and beat her, at least you can make a legitimate case for one other horse in the field.