08/25/2010 9:02AM

Big Start For Rachel Alexandra


Sunday's Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga will be Rachel Alexandra's first ever start at a distance as far as 1 1-4 miles. It will be her first start in almost a year in a Grade 1 event. And it will be Rachel Alexandra's first start this season against an opponent as good as Life At Ten.

Despite all of that, and the fact that she has had an even more uninspiring campaign this year than Zenyatta (which says a lot), Rachel Alexandra will be heavily favored to win the Personal Ensign. And that is true not just because reigning Horses of the Year like her have reputations that manifest themselves in severely depressed odds at the windows. Regarding the 10 furlong distance, it should be remembered that Rachel Alexandra handled 1 3-16 miles comfortably last year when she won the Preakness after disputing a strong early pace, holding off a Kentucky Derby winner in Mine That Bird who was at his very best at that time. As for Grade 1 competition, that certainly shouldn't throw Rachel Alexandra. After all, she has won five such races.

And as far as Life At Ten goes, as big a run as she is on - she has won six straight, the last five in stakes, the last three of which were graded - the reality is eight of the last nine Beyer Figures Rachel Alexandra earned are superior to the career-best Beyer of 101 that Life At Ten earned when she won the Sixty Sails Handicap three starts back. As an aside, you also have to wonder if folks shouldn't be a little gun shy when it comes to Life At Ten, who is trained by Todd Pletcher. Although Pletcher is having his typically strong Saratoga meeting - he is leading the trainer standings there by a big eight wins going into Wednesday's racing - Pletcher also burned a lot of money in major Saratoga stakes the last two weekends when the heavily favored pair of Quality Road and Devil May Care went down in the Whitney and Alabama, respectively.

But for Rachel Alexandra fans, and for those who would like to see her maintain a winning streak for what it might mean when it comes to whatever stakes match ups she might find herself in this fall, the Personal Ensign, going in, still seems like the biggest nail biter Rachel Alexandra has been involved in in a long time. After all the soft spots so far this year that had the feel of mere preliminaries, the Personal Ensign for Rachel Alexandra now seems like the race that could make or break her season. It's odd having that sense with a horse who will be such a heavy favorite and whose virtues are obvious. But that's how it feels.