05/21/2009 11:00PM

Rachel Alexandra - the one and only

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Cheryl Manista
FEBRUARY 2006: At one month old, Rachel Alexandra looked "a little raw-boned and a little scruffy," according to breeder Dolphus Morrison.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - They really might have broken the mold when they made Rachel Alexandra. So far, the 2009 Preakness and Kentucky Oaks winner is the only surviving foal from Lotta Kim, an 8-year-old broodmare with more than her share of bad luck. But breeder and owner Dolphus Morrison has been richly rewarded for his faith in Lotta Kim.

Morrison bred Rachel Alexandra on a $35,000 stud fee in 2005, sending Lotta Kim to Medaglia d'Oro in his first season at stud. After Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by a record 20 1/4 lengths, he sold her privately to Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick for an undisclosed price that bloodstock experts put at around $10 million.

Barbara D. Livingston
MAY 2009: Rachel Alexandra wins the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths before taking the Preakness.

Morrison said he can't reveal the price due to a confidentiality clause, but it was, he quips, well beyond the usual three times the stud fee that commercial breeders consider a successful sale. He says there were no performance-based "kickers" that would have raised the price after the Preakness victory for her new owners.

"It was a clean sale," he said, "done on the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid."

Morrison, 75, is president of SMI Steel and has been racing and breeding horses for almost 30 years, mostly with trainer Hal Wiggins and Wiggins's son Lon. He first bought into Rachel Alexandra's family in late 1997, when he paid $25,000 for her second dam, a moderately successful runner named Kim's Blues. At the time, the bay filly by Cure the Blues was a 4-year-old in Lon Wiggins's Chicago barn, and her owner, Little Fish Stables, was winding down its racing stable.

"I bought her because of her pedigree," Morrison said. "It was mainly the Cure the Blues bloodline I liked."

Kim's Blues never won for Morrison. But the main goal for his new filly, clearly, was breeding. He retired her in 1998 with four wins and $78,728 in her bankroll. Once in Morrison's broodmare band, Kim's Blues proved useful. She produced three stakes winners - Lotta Rhythm, High Blues, and Lotta Kim - before Morrison sold her to Turning Leaf Farm in 2006 for $500,000.

Her third foal, the Roar daughter Lotta Kim, showed talent but was troubled by bad luck and a temperamental disposition. Following in the footsteps of her three-quarter sister Lotta Rhythm, Lotta Kim placed in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill before shipping south for the Fair Grounds meet. She won the Tiffany Lass, putting her on a path to the Fair Grounds Oaks. Then a runaway horse and a patch of asphalt ended Lotta Kim's career in a flash.

"She had just come off the track and was walking on some blacktop when a loose horse came running by her and scared her," said Hal Wiggins, 66. "She reared up, and her back feet slipped and she fell. She had a tremendous gash in her hip area."

"It took 278 stitches," Morrison said. "We were lucky, really, to save her. She had bled a lot, and we finally got a handle on it enough to send her to Kentucky for rehab and save her for a broodmare."

Louis Hodges Jr.
An injury ended Lotta Kim's racing career, but breeder Dolphus Morrison (below) still believed she would make a good broodmare.

Morrison never doubted that Lotta Kim could make a good producer. Among other things, he believed she would pass on an unusually large heart to her foal.

"I think Lotta Kim had a big heart from Roar and passed that on to Rachel," he said, adding that as far as he knows, no one has yet measured Rachel Alexandra's heart via ultrasound.

"I'm a fan of the X factor," Morrison added, referring to the breeding theory that larger-than-normal hearts can be inherited and can improve racing performance. "I think it gives horses the ability to

Jeff Coady/Coady

Photography

carry speed for a distance."

Morrison selected Medaglia d'Oro, then at Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington. Morrison considered everything from speed indices to Dosage profiles when settling on the stallion, but in the end the physical match was paramount.

"I bred Lotta Kim as a good physical fit for Medaglia d'Oro," he said. "He was, in my opinion at that time, the best thing I'd ever seen. He was an awesome thing, physically. Great balance, great racehorse, and obviously with the way he could finish a race, he had a great airway. That's one thing I've always looked for in broodmares, horses that can finish two turns effectively. Some sprinters are okay, but I prefer the good airway. That's what makes a good racehorse, along with the rest of the physical machine."

Physical machine pretty well describes the mating that produced Rachel Alexandra, who was born on Jan. 29, 2006. But when Rachel Alexandra was a foal, she was not the most impressive of Morrison's homebreds. When he traveled from his home in Columbia, Mo., to visit his foals at Dr. Dede McGehee's Heaven Trees Farm in Lexington, he preferred Abbott Hall, a 2006 daughter of the Cure the Blues mare Miss Abbott. Incidentally, she's turned out well, too. She won her maiden last year by 6 1/4 lengths, then came back to take the Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs by six.

"I hate to say it, but Rachel looked a little raw-boned and a little scruffy," he said. "But I liked her conformation and all."

Morrison rarely sells the first couple of foals out of his mares, preferring to race early ones himself in an effort to put black-type runners under the mare's produce record, then sell later foals. He almost made an exception with Rachel Alexandra, entering her in the 2006 Keeneland November sale as a weanling. When X-rays revealed a fault - what exactly, Morrison still won't say, but he calls it a "minor development problem" - he scratched her, convinced she wouldn't bring the $125,000 he thought she was worth. Needless to say, Rachel Alexandra rose quickly to the top of Morrison's stable and is the best horse he has bred or raced, easily surpassing the Grade 1 winner You, whom Morrison bred, and the eight-time stakes winner Morris Code, whom he owned.

Morrison and trainer Hal Wiggins got good early reports from Diamond D Ranch, a Texas training facility where Rachel Alexandra was broken.

"They said she was fast, all right," Wiggins recalled. But what struck him most was how little Rachel Alexandra and her dam have in common.

"Lotta Kim had a terrible disposition," Wiggins recalled. "She wasn't really mean, but plumb ornery. She made it a project every time you wanted to do something with her. Completely the opposite from Rachel Alexandra. I don't know what you could do to get Rachel Alexandra excited, except go into the starting gate."

Wiggins figures Lotta Kim has more than made up for any inconvenience she might have caused him now that she has put a Kentucky Oaks winner in his barn. Morrison sold Rachel Alexandra to Jackson and McCormick days after the Oaks, and Wiggins said he and his staff are eagerly awaiting Morrison's next foal from Lotta Kim.

"I told him I'll be 75 years old before I get another one to the racetrack," Wiggins said. "I'm hoping he'll send her back to Medaglia d'Oro again. I'd like to have a barn full of them."

But Lotta Kim's setbacks didn't end in 2004 at Fair Grounds. In 2007, she foaled an Empire Maker colt whom Morrison named Empire Ruler. The colt developed wobbler's syndrome, a condition in which the horse loses coordination, and was euthanized recently, Morrison said.

In 2008, Morrison bred her to Any Given Saturday. But she developed a viral infection late in pregnancy, and the resulting colt was born underdeveloped in February.

"I spent a bunch of money trying to save that foal, and we didn't succeed," Morrison said. "Right now, we're still working on the infection, and I'm gonna give her another year off. I'm trying to invest in the future with her."

Since Rachel Alexandra's rise to stardom, Morrison has had plenty of offers to take the hard-luck mare off his hands.

"My phone wires have melted," Morrison joked. "I've got copper plate all over my room.

"But I've still got Kim. I'm not gonna sell Kim. She's a gold mine."