07/21/2010 4:21PM

Suddenly, this summer

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It's Christmas in July. Just look at all the goodies there beneath the leafy summer trees. Del Mar opened on Wednesday. Mmmmm ... Del Margaritas. Saratoga begins on Friday. Mmmmm ... Del Margaritas. And on Saturday, to tie a bright bow on the package, Rachel Alexandra descends from her mountaintop to run at Monmouth Park in a raced named in honor of Lady's Secret.

You always love it when royalty gets their hands dirty. Like him or not, Prince Charles looked better on a polo pony than he did standing next to his mum. And despite the fact that the reigning Horse of the Year has lost two of her three races this season, Rachel Alexandra has lost no luster as a shining star in racing's firmament.

Among the crowd at Monmouth will be thousands who witnessed Rachel Alexandra's muscular performance in the Haskell last season, when she ran away from a pretty good colt named Summer Bird. They will be expecting nothing less when she returns in the Lady's Secret, a race shaped, scheduled and funded with Rachel in mind.

The Rachel Alexandra that shows up on Saturday will go a long way toward setting the table for the competitive environment the rest of the year. If she reverts to her first two efforts of 2010, in which she ran gallantly but could not withstand the pressure of late attack from determined opposition, she will become irrelevant to any ongoing championship discussions. But if, as expected, she uncorks one of those breathtaking performances, high on cruising speed and disdainful of any opposition that dares linger as far as the quarter pole, she will light a fire under fans everywhere and imbue owner Jess Jackson with that old feeling -- the one that once made him think she could beat any horse on earth.

One thing fans and media should not accept, however, is another verse of the song that has been playing all year long: that win or lose, impressive or not, Rachel Alexandra is still rounding into form, that we should all be patient, and that the best is yet to come because, after all, the reeeeally important races are at the end of the year. She has been in training long enough, with no publicly revealed setbacks announced, other than blaming the poor, defenseless weather in New Orleans last winter for a sluggish start. It is time she took up where she left off, if she can, and remind us precisely why she earned that title as Horse of the Year.

As for the Del Mar season, for which I will assume full resposibility as part of the neighborhood, I can only hope the racing comes up to the level of the concert series being advertised. I know where I'll be the night the B-52s hit town. But first, I've got to find my telephone.