08/27/2010 2:36PM

Rachel goes longer than ever before in Personal Ensign

Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra will race 1 1/4 miles for the first time in Sunday's Personal Ensign.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Last year, speed was Rachel Alexandra’s most potent weapon, one she rode to eight consecutive victories and a Horse of the Year title.

This year, strength has trumped speed for Rachel Alexandra. It is that trait her connections hope can carry her farther in distance and to perhaps a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Classic later this year. A true test of that theory will come Sunday when Rachel Alexandra attempts 1 1/4 miles for the first time in her career in the Grade 1, $300,000 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga. Among her competition will be Life At Ten, a winner of six straight races and a filly who has already proven she can win at 1 1/4 miles.

This will be the longest distance Rachel Alexandra has run in her career. Last year, she used her speed to beat the boys in the Preakness at 1 3/16 miles, just 15 days after she won the Kentucky Oaks.

Steve Asmussen, who trains Rachel Alexandra for Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable, estimates that Rachel Alexandra is about 200 pounds heavier as a 4-year-old than she was last year. Calvin Borel, the regular rider of Rachel Alexandra, believes that weight is all muscle and that it will better prepare her to run longer distances.

“She has enough natural speed to be there,” Borel said. “With the muscle and the power it’ll help her keep going. I never had any concern about [the distance].”

After suffering two losses to begin her 4-year-old season, Rachel Alexandra has rebounded with wins in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs and the $400,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park. The competition in the last race was nondescript, but Asmussen feels it was a useful race.

“Her last race was very good, but hopefully a building block to better,” Asmussen said. “I think hopefully this is a bridge or a step in that direction.”

Life At Ten, trained by Todd Pletcher, may be the most formidable opponent Rachel Alexandra has met this year. The 5-year-old Life At Ten has won six consecutive races, capped by wins in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and, most recently, the Delaware Handicap, at 1 1/4 miles.

“At least I know she’ll run a mile and a quarter and she’s run very well,” said John Velazquez, who rides Life At Ten. “She still has to compete against one of the best horses there is out there right now. This is still a step up for her and hopefully we can handle it.”

Both Life At Ten and Rachel Alexandra figure to be forwardly placed. It could turn into a rider’s race between Velazquez and Borel. Life At Ten may have a slight advantage having drawn post 4, two spots outside Rachel Alexandra.

“I just want to get her into a good rhythm,” Velazquez said. “She’s so big and wide I don’t want to be in a wrestling match with her and not have anything left to finish. The only two times I’ve been on her I kind of let her down her own thing.”

Said Borel: “I don’t ever take anything away from Rachel. I’ll let her put me where she wants and where she’s happy and then we’ll go from there. If I’m there and she’s doing her [12-second furlongs] I’m going to let her do it on her own and go from there and I know she’ll finish. I’m not worried about that.”

Trainer Marty Wolfson has run horses against – and been beaten – both by Life At Ten and Rachel Alexandra this year. Sunday, he will send out Miss Singhsix, who twice finished behind Life at Ten in the Sixty Sails Handicap in April and the Delaware Handicap in July.

“Myself, I kind of think Life At Ten might be the one to beat,” Wolfson said. “I was so impressed when I ran against her in the Sixty Sails and then the race at Delaware she was twice the filly she was then. Rachel, I thought her race at Monmouth was good, but I thought she’d toy with them a little bit more. I wasn’t impressed as what I thought I would be.”

Wolfson hopes Rachel Alexandra and Life At Ten put enough pressure to potentially set things up for his horse.

“I hope there’s a good pace scenario. I really like the distance for my filly,” said Wolfson, who has four Grade 1 wins at Saratoga,including last year’s Personal Ensign with Icon Project. “I come up for so many Grade 1s and come out winning them where they gave my horse no shot. Anything can happen, especially going a mile and a quarter.”

Classofsixtythree, third in the Grade 1 Ruffian, and Persistently, a recent second-level allowance winner, complete the field.