12/31/2013 10:21PM

Rachel

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The bay mare with the trademark blaze and famous eyes lives a leisurely life nowadays.  Her body has regained its strength, having recovered from a life-threatening illness this past February.  Her powerful muscles shift beneath a thick, dark winter coat toned in reds, chestnut, browns, black.  She enjoys comfortable days with her friends in an oversized paddock and spends nights tucked safely in a spacious, world-class barn. 

She is the 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra – Preakness champion, Woodward conqueror, Haskell hero.  She won five Grade Is, including three over the boys.  She won in six different states, at eight different racetracks, and earned more than $3.5 million.  She won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths, the Mother Goose by 19 1/4.  All you need say is “Rachel,” and fans around the world instantly know who you mean.

“It just seems that you truly are in a special presence when you are around Rachel Alexandra,” says Stonestreet Farm’s broodmare manager Louis Logan.  This man knows his horses.  His last job, at Brookdale Farm, lasted more than a quarter-century.

“My general philosophy has always been to treat all the horses the same, and we do.  But she’s kind of a cut above the rest.”

After Rachel’s terrifying health scare in mid-February, a day after her second foal’s birth, the racing world held its collective breath.  As a proud Rachel fan, I couldn’t even bear to think about her, couldn’t stand to consider what could happen, refused to let that word “serious,” in the press releases, sink in.

Yet the months passed, and the Stonestreet press releases grew more positive as the strong-willed Rachel improved.

And so it is now winter, and Rachel looks like her old self.  Proud, confident, interested, smart - still young, but with a look in her eyes that only her increasing age and maturity could provide.  She's back to a regular schedule now, the same as that of her buddies.  They are let out in the morning, establish their spot in the field to settle in to graze (of course, Rachel is an ‘alpha’!), they graze, and drink from the automatic waterer, and watch the Stonestreet world go by all day, and they are brought in at day’s end.

The racing Rachel could be downright testy – her attitude only changed, momentarily, by the aid of things like peppermints.  But the retired Rachel is different.   Although she can still pin her ears at equine paddock mates, she can also tolerate – no, more than that, she seems to appreciate – her doting human visitors.

And Rachel can still cast a knowing glance that levels a fan.  When her white-rimmed eye glances my way, I feel like I imagine her competition did – awed, flattered, and certainly, as Wayne and Garth would say, not worthy.

Anyone who was there will never forget when she brought down the house at the Kentucky Oaks.  And we remember her rubber-legged, exhausted but victorious returns to the Preakness and Woodward winner’s circles – as if she inspired the saying, “Never say die.”  And we all felt that tug, the sad realization that she had had enough, when she was passed in deep stretch, in her final start, by Persistently.

All of those different things, the then and the now, are part of what makes up Rachel Alexandra.

“The first time I saw her, I was very astounded at her presence,” says Logan.  “If you didn’t know who she was, and you just looked at her as an individual, you could still tell she has extraordinary athletic ability. It’s very rare that you come across a horse of her caliber.”

Very rare, indeed.

Above: Rachel's tail, closeup.

Above:  Feeling great!  Rachel Alexandra, age 7, feeling great at Stonestreet Farm on December 13, 2013.

With special thanks to Amy Kearns and to the staff at Stonestreet Farm.  A heartfelt thank you, also, to Barbara Banke for keeping her husband Jess Jackson's racing dreams alive in such an admirable fashion.

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A photo blog from a visit with Rachel at Stonestreet Farm in summer 2012: http://www.drf.com/blogs/rachel-alexandra-and-midsummer-nights-dream

A photo blog of the day Rachel Alexandra left Saratoga in 2010:  http://www.drf.com/blogs/goodbye-girl-rachel-alexandra-heads-toward-new-life-0

Video of Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDzt6mD8048

Video of Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Woodward at Saratoga: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysO_Fhc8Fpw

Video of Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoiIWF_QH5g

Video of Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LryUYkWR3tM