08/27/2009 6:26PM

Gray Lady


Jess Jackson deserves all the pleasure he derives from the acquisition and ownership of Rachel Alexandra. He's got the only one, and it's great that from time to time he likes to share the view. However, there is a natural skepticism that arises when someone tells us over and over how good something is without ever giving us a chance to discover it conclusively for ourselves. Now that it has been announced Rachel Alexandra will make her next start in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, Sept. 5, more evidence may be on the way.

It's already been noted, at great length, that no 3-year-old filly has ever won the Woodward. This is of interest, just as no 3-year-old filly has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (first run in 1919), no 3-year-old filly has won the Whitney (first run in 1928) and, for that matter, no 3-year-old filly has won the Pacific Classic (first run in 1991). The main reason is statistical -- very few have tried -- which relates to the traditional, since there are races of equal prestige for the gender.

Now Rachel Alexandra will try, and more power to her. But to confuse the current look of the Woodward with its impressive past would be a mistake. This is not your daddy's Woodward.

In fact, the race has lived a lot of different and very colorful lives. William Woodward Sr., the man behind Gallant Fox and Omaha and chairman of the Jockey Club, died at the age of xx. His legacy was honored by the first running of the Woodward Handicap in 1954, when Pet Bully beat Joe Jones at Belmont going a mile. In 1955 the Woodward was a mile and one-eighth and won by Traffic Judge. Thirty days later, William "Billy" Woodward Jr., the son of you-know-who and owner of soon-to-be Horse of the year Nashua, was gunned down by his wife in what was ruled an accidental shooting. In 1956, Nashua, now owned by Spendthrift Farm, was upset in the Woodward by Mister Gus.

For the 16 runnings from 1956 through 1971 it was a mile and one-quarter, eight of them run at Aqueduct and eight at Belmont, followed by four runnings at a mile and one-half. Secretariat lost one of those. Forego won four straight, including two runnings at a mile and a half (at weight-for-age) and then two as a handicap at a mile and one-eighth (carrying a total of 268 pounds), after which the Woodward was back to 10 furlongs from 1978 through 1980's walkover with Spectacular Bid. Commencing in 1981 the race profile became a picture of consistency--9 furlongs at Belmont--as long as you don't count the reversion to a mile and a quarter in 1989, when fans of Easy Goer got to watch him romp an extra 12 seconds or so.

The move from Belmont in 2006 was predicated on giving the older division another opportunity to run for Saratoga glory, never mind that there were now two main track mile and one-eighth races for the same horses a month apart, both beginning with "W." Not even California would do that, although it is true all the races of significance tend to start with either San or Santa.

Lady's Secret 1

Rachel Alexandra will be running a two-turn mile and one-eighth Woodward at Saratoga rather than the one-turn mile and one-eighth of Belmont. Every respected handicapper I talked to (okay, both of them) said without a doubt a ratable speed horse like Rachel has a distinct advantage going two turns compared to one. And because the Woodward now looks pretty much like the Whitney, there is justification for arm's length comparison.  Gallorette, Lady's Secret and Personal Ensign all were Whitney winners, Gallorette also finished second, as did Serena's Song, while Shuvee and Straight Deal finished third. None of them was three at the time.

Still, it is Woodward history Rachel Alexandra will try to make, and it was on Aug. 30, 1986, that Lady's Secret finished second in the Woodward to Precisionist, the same season she was voted Horse of the Year. To that point in the campaign, Lady's Secret already had faced the boys three times, winning the Whitney and running third in the Met Mile and the Iselin.

In terms of facing males in major races at age three, Rachel Alexandra has the jump on Lady's Secret. On the other hand, by early September of 1985, the 3-year-old Lady's Secret already had met and beaten older fillies and mares four times. Other than the fact that the elegant Rachel Alexandra is dark brown and about twice as tall, while Lady's Secret moved like a scalded gray cat, there is not much to compare the two, which leaves us more time to enjoy the memory of one and anticipation for the other.

Go here to relive the Lady's Secret years: Download Lady'sSecret