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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.
* * * *
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
Outstanding photos of a great champion. Thanks for sharing.
Same Shannon-let this beautiful animal be a participating part of her world. She and Zennie too could do so much for the retired equine issue. To let them wither away in beautiful paddocks, stopping only to give birth, is not right,. Let them be productive in ways other than being brood mares.
I really wish they would let her do some additional training to show the world even graded stakes winners could have careers outside racing and breeding- I'm sure there are many OTTB trainers out there that would LOVE to have a crack at Rachel- she could show so many on track trainers that horses are well cared for & loved by non racing trainers too. Would be a HUGE help to those of us striving to place every retired TB in a good home after racing.
Gorgeous photos of Rachel. She is so very special. Love her so much. Thanks Barbara!
I just found this blog. It took my breath away. I have been in love with Rachel since her first race and when I saw her at Monmouth Park I felt faint after her win I yelled so hard and wanted her to win so badly. My husband and I show collies and the collie national show will be in Louisville in 2016. My husband has since died but it was a show we were so looking forward to and talking about years before. The dog show is incidental to hopefully being able to see Rachel in person. If it were possible to see her it would be one of the happiest times of my life. The last collie national in Louisville was in 2000 and we saw John Henry. It was a quiet, overcast day with not many visitors. Cathy, his care taker at the time, let us spend extra time with him and give me mane hairs which I cherish. Every time I think of that time I am overcome with emotion for him. I just cant think of any other way to describe how I feel about Rachel except to compare it to that day. You are all so generous with Rachel I hope to be able to see her.. Thank you for sharing her.
So, So, Satisfying :-) Thanks so much for
Dear Barbara: A fantastic tribute to a fantastic mare. Thank you for the wonderful commentary and photos. Just beautiful. Hugs, JB
curious - what's the status on her two foals?
Ohhhhh Barbara! Thank YOU! The tears are flowing because of the passion your pictures elicit! Those EYES...her thick coat...that tail....THAT GIRL! I will always and forever cherish my memories of Rachel, and visiting her at Stonestreet will remain at the top of my bucket list, though moving back home to Saratoga from Cincinnati this past summer will make it a bit more difficult! Her Woodward victory is forever etched in my mind, beating in my heart and buried deep in my soul!
Thanks so much, Barbara...I fell in love with Rachel at Saratoga. Love the pix.