01/20/2010 12:00AM

Rachel nearing first workout

Alexander Barkoff

NEW ORLEANS - Under lights early on a humid New Orleans morning, the Steve Asmussen stock whizzed around the Fair Grounds racetrack seemingly by the hundreds. But it was not hard to find the queen of the hive. Rachel Alexandra paraded out at 6:30, accompanied by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and Pancho, the most recognized stable pony in America. A few feet behind, astride another pony, came Asmussen himself.

It was jog one mile, gallop one mile for Rachel Alexandra in her first trip to the racetrack since being named 2009 Horse of the Year on Monday night. Principal owner Jess Jackson suggested at the Eclipse Awards that Rachel might be too far behind in her training this winter to make the Apple Blossom Stakes in April at Oaklawn Park, a race targeted by the connections of Zenyatta. But in her spirited Wednesday gallop, Rachel looked like she could drag exercise rider Dominic Terry the 530 miles to Oaklawn in a matter of a couple hours.

"It's too early to say yet," Asmussen said, asked his opinion of whether Rachel could be ready for a start at the Fair Grounds meet, a potential stepping-stone to the Apple Blossom. "If you're actually going to do what's best for the horse, you just don't know yet."

Asmussen said Rachel Alexandra had missed six to eight days of training this winter due either to heavy rain or freezing conditions. But while Rachel might be slightly behind in her training because of the conditions in New Orleans, she also is liable to come around quickly once she begins breezing around Feb. 1.

"She's definitely not a normal horse in that sense," said Asmussen. "Usually when you get started back with a horse after being off that long, they're a little sloppy and slow at first. She was not like that at all."

Asmussen said he hopes Jackson and Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta's owners, will get together and map out a series of two or three races through 2010 where the two champions could meet.

"I don't think you can just hand-pick one race to compare them," said Asmussen.

Asked how many times he would like to see Rachel Alexandra race during 2010, should her campaign develop under ideal conditions, Asmussen said that six or seven starts would seem suitable. That would be a relatively busy season for a filly already coming off a Horse of the Year campaign, but from the way Rachel looked on Wednesday, she will be more than ready when her times comes.