02/06/2010 1:00AM

Rachel Alexandra picks up the pace

Lou Hodges Jr./Lou Hodges Photography
Rachel Alexandra works a half-mile under Dominic Terry at Fair Grounds Saturday. it was her second workout in the last six days.

NEW ORLEANS - Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra worked Saturday at Fair Grounds for the second time this year, stepping up her pace and covering a half-mile in 50.60 seconds over a fast track.

With assistant trainer Scott Blasi leading on his pony and with trainer Steve Asmussen trailing on horseback, Rachel Alexandra arrived at the Fair Grounds main track at 6:31 a.m. with regular exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard.

Led to the finish line, Rachel Alexandra and Terry were turned loose, and galloped toward the half-mile pole before beginning to run in earnest. She worked evenly and galloped out a fifth furlong in 1:04.00, according to track clocker Billy Pettingill.

The work was faster than the 52.00 that Rachel Alexandra worked last Sunday, and her connections were pleased with the step forward.

"Very pleased with today's work," said Asmussen. "It's the progression we were expecting, the next step in the process."

As Rachel Alexandra circled back to Blasi after galloping out, she reared twice, as though she didn't want to be led off the track.

"Her energy level is unbelievable," said Blasi. "She's a happy horse."

Rachel Alexandra hasn't raced since her victory in the Grade 1 Woodward on Sept. 5. Since arriving at Fair Grounds at the end of November, she has been asked to do a bit more in her training each week.

After weeks of walking a mile and galloping a mile, Asmussen gave Rachel Alexandra her first work of the year on Sunday, Jan. 31., a half-mile in 52. Saturday's move came six days later and Asmussen has scheduled her next work for Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather.

Rachel Alexandra was a perfect eight for eight in 2009, with victories over males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward, along with dominating victories in the Mother Goose and Kentucky Oaks.

While Rachel Alexandra's first start of the season has yet to be determined, Fair Grounds has tried to entice her into beginning her 4-year-old campaign here by creating a race for her division on March 13, the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at 1 1/16 miles. Last Thursday, the purse of the Apple Blossom was increased to $5 million if both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both compete.

When asked about the possibility of Rachel being ready for the Apple Blossom, Asmussen said, "We are going to do what is right for Rachel."