06/12/2010 11:00PM

Rachel back in winner's circle

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Rachel Alexandra asserted her superiority over four rivals in the Fleur de Lis.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra returned to familiar territory Saturday in the Grade 2, $214,000 at Churchill Downs: the winner's circle.

Rebounding from a pair of second-place finishes that began her 4-year-old campaign, Rachel Alexandra asserted her clear superiority over an outclassed field of four opponents in the Fleur de Lis, winning by 10 1/2 lengths over longshot Distinctive Dixie. She raced 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.78, a second and a half off the track record.

There was a noticeable sense of relief among her connections after the race.

"She's a tremendous horse; I'm very proud of her," trainer Steve Asmussen said, shortly before hugging assistant Scott Blasi, one of those most responsible for her day to day care.

In a race that was short on depth and quality, Rachel Alexandra's biggest test in the Fleur de Lis figured to come from front-running Jessica Is Back, who had run a second to eventual Odgen Phipps winner Life at Ten in her preceding start, the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap Apr. 17.

But after conceding the early lead to that rival early, jockey Calvin Borel quickly placed Rachel Alexandra alongside her midway on the first turn, and thereafter the outcome was rarely in doubt.

Jessica Is Back came under a ride after carving up early fractions of 23.93 seconds and 47.25, and Rachel Alexandra took command shortly after the pair went six furlongs in 1:11.16.

At that point Distinctive Dixie closed within a few lengths of the champion filly, briefing giving the appearance that another test might be in store for Rachel Alexandra, but the latter drew clear in the lane while spotting the opposition from 7 to 9 pounds each.

Distinctive Dixie held second by two lengths over a tiring third-place Jessica Is Back. Multipass and Made for Magic completed the order of finish.

Rachel Alexandra's time of 1:48.78 was quick, roughly a half-second off the stakes record of 1:48.26, set by Heritage of Gold in 2000. The winner, a 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro owned by Harold McCormick and Stonestreet Stable, paid $2.20.

"She stepped it up today," Borel said, after noting that "she did the impossible last year."