09/07/2009 12:00AM

Rachel always in the right spot

Barbara D. Livingston
Pressed hard on the lead, Rachel Alexandra (second from right), with Calvin Borel aboard, turns for home in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Rachel Alexandra has the American game by the throat. At a mile and one-eighth on dirt, where good American horses meet most often, over courses muddy, mealy, packed, and plowed, she has the mechanical efficiency of a great sprinter who jumps quickly into action, and the cardio-pulmonary depth to carry that efficiency as far as she's needed to go. So far.

There is a reason Rachel Alexandra has competed only once beyond nine furlongs, and that is because Steve Asmussen is not ready to ask her to run that far again. Believe it or not, he is still getting to know her (what he has seen so far he likes), but like any responsible

trainer, he wants to be holding as many high cards as possible when he sits down to play.

No division has more wiggle room than 3-year-old fillies. The stakes book is their oyster. They are eligible to most everything. As a result, it has been Asmussen's job to choose the races that fit Rachel Alexandra's considerable assets as neatly as possible, after which it becomes Jess Jackson's pleasure to make that choice sound as if the filly will be climbing K2 in high heels.

In this reporter's opinion, her best race remains the Preakness, given the combination of post, pace,

surface, and general atmosphere of Triple Crown craziness. Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird was also in very good form that day and gave her his best shot. After Pimlico, she deserved a breather and was granted one in the Mother Goose. The Haskell should have been more competitive, but the track condition conspired against Rachel's less-nimble opposition and played to her ground-tickling stride.

As for the Woodward, again Asmussen chose wisely, opting for an eight-pound pull in the weights at her optimum distance, over a Saratoga main track that can be kind to horses with early foot, especially around two turns. Asmussen swallowed the variable of the competition - he had seen most of them perform anyway - but he could not predict how Rachel Alexandra would react when they came at her in waves after a fast early pace, which they did, first Da' Tara, then Past the Point, then It's the Bird and Bullsbay, and finally Macho Again.

"I heard Calvin getting criticized for not taking her back early, off that pace," said Eddie Delahoussaye the day after watching his fellow Louisiana boy Borel get the job done again. "He takes back, and they've got him in a box so fast he'd never get out. I thought he did a great job. I just wish he didn't have to get into her quite so much."

Borel did cut a swath, smacking Rachel Alexandra four times left-handed and then 15 times right-

handed in the run to the Woodward wire. Racing is living in an age of heightened sensitivity regarding the use of the whip, so it will be interesting to see if there is blowback from the filly's fans, particularly those who are paying attention to the game because of her alone.

Rachel Alexandra is as brave a Thoroughbred as has come along in a very long time. She taps into the same rare natural resource that fueled horses like John Henry and Sunday Silence, horses who required nothing more than being pointed in the direction of the finish line. In the end, though, if those 19 lashes don't bother Asmussen or Jackson, it's between Rachel and Calvin. If she doesn't like the way he uses the stick, she can always drop him in the post parade. Again.

Richard's Kid tickles old trainer

He was right there, on Preakness Day at Pimlico, and Calvin Borel even used him as a warm-up act for the big dance with Rachel. But we missed him, out there running fourth in the William Donald Schaefer Stakes at 10-1, otherwise there could have been an early line on the ultimate outcome of the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar.

Richard's Kid beat Einstein and Rail Trip, winners of the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup, and sent folks scurrying for deep background. Of course, it was too late to make hay on his 24-1 odds, but at the very least we needed to know about the "Richard" part of this suddenly famous son of Lemon Drop Kid, who races for Arnold Zetcher and Bob Baffert.

"That was terrific," said Richard Small, who used to train the Classic winner for longtime client Robert Meyerhoff. "I sure got a big kick out of it. We've had his family for a long, long time. And we'd tried to win that race a couple times in the past."

Small did indeed, back in the 1993 Classic with Valley Crossing and in 1995 with Concern. They both finished fifth. Small won the John B. Campbell Handicap with Richard's Kid earlier this year, but by late spring he had pretty much run out of options for a long-winded main-track 4-year-old a cut or two below the best, and he was sold.

"It used to be that horses went a mile and a quarter pretty handily," Small said. "That's the way we all got started training. There's getting to be fewer and fewer long races, and it was getting real hard to place him around here."

Richard's Kid is out of the Broad Brush mare Tough Broad, whose dam was Richard's Choice, by Private Account.

"There haven't been too many horses named after me," Small said with a laugh. "Mr. Meyerhoff wanted a Private Account mare, so he bought the one I liked. She did okay, but not that good. Her foals were nice, though, and he kept needling me that he'd name them all after me. Tough Broad - I think she was named after someone, too, but I think I'd better not mention that one."