09/11/2009 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Rachel's triumph in Woodward a racing classic

I saw Dark Star beat Native Dancer, Jaipur beat Ridan in the greatest Travers ever, and I was at Secretariat's Belmont. I saw Kelso, Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid, Forego, the Alydar-Affirmed rivalry, and, my all-time favorite, Dr. Fager. None of these ever ran a race like Rachel Alexandra's Woodward. It should be put in a time capsule.

It was a race for the ages, and her 3-year-old campaign has been one never before accomplished and one that will likely never be repeated.

Her Woodward, from the gate, was tag-team horse racing, as four of the lesser lights took turns at her throat for eight furlongs. In the final eighth, after being mugged by those four, when many of the all-time greats might have spit it out, she prevailed over the only two horses who had a shot and had been waiting for their chance to pounce.

While her campaign against fillies was a laugher, consider the males she beat this year: She won the Preakness, beating the winner of this year's Derby. She has beaten the winners of this year's and last year's Belmont. She has beaten the winner of this year's Whitney and defeated the winner of this year's Stephen Foster - a race that every year proves its Grade 1 status - and the winner of this year's Travers. Need one say more?

There are those who say she should now get on a plane, fly 3,000 to run on a synthetic surface, to confront a horse who has to "take her track with her" (her stakes victory at Oaklawn notwithstanding) and, last out, was all out to win by a nose over a horse who was still eligible for nonwinners of three. Hardly!

As for her connections, since the third Saturday in May, their campaign for her has been the ultimate in sportsmanship. She not only took on all comers from the male ranks, they passed on what surely would have been million-dollar purses in both the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby to take lesser money challenging the best of the older males. Thank you.

She should be retired, forthwith, as she has nothing more to prove.

Can you spell Horse of the Year? Decade? Ever?

Donald Capron - Gilbert, Ariz.

Filly's campaign leads to pantheon

While it is unlikely that we will ever hear 120,000 people scream in unison again as at the Belmont Stakes in 2004 when Birdstone got the best of Smarty Jones, it is equally unlikely that we will ever witness again what took place at Saratoga last Saturday.

Rachel Alexandra not only "raised the rafters" of the old Spa, as announcer Tom Durkin exclaimed following the Woodward, but she raised the rafters of this great sport, and all of sport as well. It is not often you witness true greatness on display in any area of life, and we saw its effects that day. It was as if she and the crowd of 31,000 were as one the entire day, and ran together throughout the race, and carried each other to victory through the stretch. And, while it is always better at Saratoga, her presence and performance transcended the norm, as even those who wagered against her because of her prohibitive odds found themselves rooting for her to hold off Macho Again.

Here we have a filly who has raced five times in just over four months, three times against males, and has shown more than remarkable talent in winning each event. Owner Jess Jackson chose a courageous path for his filly, and together they brought a great gift to this sport and its followers. And while the debate will continue as to whether or not Rachel is the greatest filly ever - with the answer never to be certain - what she accomplished at Saratoga is certain to remain forever, because on Sept. 5, 2009, Rachel Alexandra was the greatest racehorse who ever lived.

Joseph Muzio - Levittown, N.Y.

She's very good, but the very best?

Over the past four months, the horse racing world has been abuzz with Rachel Alexandra. First, there was awe at her marvelous Kentucky Oaks win. Then came the clamoring for a race with Zenyatta. Now, we are in the midst of the exultation to name Rachel the greatest ever. But perhaps the racing world needs to stop and look around. Rachel may not even be the best horse in training right now. Shocking, yes, but plausibly true.

Certainly Zenyatta's last win was nothing to write home over. But remember, the superstar mare is undefeated. Despite another errant - five paths wide - ride by Mike Smith, the gutsy mare found a way to get to the wire first. It's important to remember that Rachel Alexandra has already suffered defeat. One has to wonder why Rachel Alexandra's owner, Jess Jackson, continues to avoid Zenyatta. Is it because he knows that Zenyatta finds a way to win on every occasion against any challenger who has come forward?

And what about Goldikova? Writers, pundits, and fans have acted as if it is unheard-of for 3-year-old fillies to beat older males. Perhaps they have forgotten about the uber-impressive Goldikova, not to mention the accomplishments of Zarkava last year, such as her victory in the Arc de Triomphe over older males. Goldikova was flown from overseas to romp in the Breeders' Cup Mile last year against, ahem, older males, and may be ready to do it again this year.

Rachel is no doubt a great racehorse and certainly one of the finest 3-year old fillies to race in any era. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Truth be told, she really might be only the second or third best horse, female or male, in training.

Richard Ilharreguy - Sacramento, Calif.

Woodward whipping treated differently

Regarding Calvin Borel's 19 vicious whacks to Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward stretch, as noted in Jay Hovdey's Sept. 9 column, "Rachel always in the right spot," I'm sure poor Rachel wound up with some painful welts on her beautiful hide.

Had a lesser jockey in, say, a claiming race so severely whipped his horse in the stretch, the stewards would have immediately imposed a fine for overuse of the whip. But this was a major jockey, on a major horse, in a major race, running for major connections. A quick look at the rule book, and the stewards came up with the Double Standard Rule: "If the important owner and/or trainer don't object, look the other way and ignore it."

Marilyn Keller - South Lake Tahoe, Calif.