09/14/2009 12:00AM

Is Rachel one of a kind?


While the racing world has gone completely gaga over Rachel Alexandra, there are a number of historically important handicapping issues that could use a less euphoric examination.

How good is she? Is there more to her talent than her winning streak, or her consistently good-to-excellent Beyer Speed Figures? Does she have an Achilles heel? Where does she rank among the top 3-year-old fillies of the past 50 years? Would she have been the favorite to defeat Ruffian, who was a runaway winner of all 10 career starts until her ill-fated 1975 match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure? What of the horses Rachel has defeated this year, were any worth playing the next time they ran?

With Rachel's 8-for-8 campaign which includes a 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks, a Preakness victory over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, a Haskell win over Belmont stakes winner Summer Bird, and a thrilling victory in the Woodward over older males, she already has earned her place among the best 3-year-old fillies in American racing history. But, as Daily Racing Form international correspondent Alan Shuback pointed out in a recent column, there have been many Euro-based 3-year-old fillies who have accomplished as much and more.

Among them were Breeders' Cup Mile winners Six Perfections and Goldikova, and four 3-year-old fillies who won the prestigious Arc de Triomphe over Europe's best older horses - Three Troikas, Detroit, Akiyda, and Zarkava. Of equal if not greater import, the Euro-based Dahlia not only defeated top older males in the 1973 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, she easily won the 1 1/2-mile Washington D.C. International, America's premier grass race of that era.

Here in America, there have been other 3-year-old fillies whose campaigns hardly suffer by comparison to Rachel's ambitious 2009 season. Kentucky Derby winners Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988 competed in all three Triple Crown races, a grueling enterprise for any horse.

Genuine Risk, in the money in the Wood Memorial and all three Triple Crown races, finished her season with a victory over older rivals in the Grade 1 Ruffian. Winning Colors also recovered from three exceedingly arduous Triple Crown battles to force the unbeaten 4-year-old filly Personal Ensign to an unforgettable nose verdict in the 1988 BC Distaff at Churchill Downs. Nothing also was lacking in Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly's 1991 campaign, which included four victories over males and a facile win over older females in the BC Distaff at Churchill.

Having seen Ruffian perform live on several occasions, I for one would not be willing to make Rachel Alexandra the betting favorite in a hypothetical matchup. On several occasions Ruffian earned Beyer-style speed figures on my own personal scale in excess of 120.

Competitive arguments also could be made on behalf of 3-year-old filly champions Serena's Song ('95); the aforementioned Dance Smartly ('91); Go for Wand ('90); Desert Vixen ('73); Gallant Bloom ('69); and Cicada ('62).

Is there more to Rachel's talents than her eight wins and her series of 108 to 116 Beyer Speed Figures? Quite a bit, when we look carefully at the tenacious way she resisted the late bids of Mine That Bird in the Preakness and Macho Again in the Woodward.

Surely her competitive determination to keep running when put under enormous pressure was the key to her fast-paced Preakness win from the outside post. Likewise, her will to win catapulted Rachel's Woodward performance into one for the ages. But, before we get too excited, we should remember that Mine That Bird - a one dimensional stretch runner - did not have a perfect trip in the Preakness and Macho Again, her key foe in the Woodward, is a good, but not great older horse who can be his own worst enemy. This flaw asserted itself when Macho Again lugged in briefly in midstretch, a minor miscue that gave Rachel Alexandra an extra edge in the final stages of their memorable stretch battle.

The bottom line is, if you are betting on a horse to beat this filly, be sure your selection is going to get the benefit of a taxing pace scenario similar to the ones Rachel faced in the Preakness and Woodward. Then be certain that your horse is not prone to make mistakes. You cannot make mistakes and beat Rachel Alexandra.

Interestingly, serious money could have been made betting back horses who lost to Rachel, provided they had one common trait: The horse must have been involved in the pace with Rachel for a good portion of the race, or made a strong move to reach her before the final quarter-mile.

Horses who tried to rally from far back or even mid-pack, did not win a single follow-up race. Yet those that challenged her for the lead, or pressed her into faster fractions were worth following. These included the male horses Big Drama and Summer Bird and the fillies Flashing, Be Fair, Gabby's Golden Gal, Just Jenda, Bon Jovi Girl, and Afleet Deceit.

Afleet Deceit chased Rachel in the Fantasy at Oaklawn and then won the Double Delta at Arlington Park. Bon Jovi Girl moved to challenge Rachel in the Fantasy, then finished second in the Black-Eyed Susan before winning the Susan's Girl at Delaware Park. Just Jenda was a chasing third in the Fantasy, then finished second in the Eight Belles at Churchill before she won the Serena's Song and Monmouth Oaks.

Gabby's Golden Gal set the pace before tiring to sixth in the Kentucky Oaks but came back to win the Grade 1 Acorn at 13-1. Be Fair, fourth in the Oaks, was not an immediate winner, but won the Grade 3 Lake George at Saratoga wire to wire. Flashing chased the pace in the Mother Goose and came back to win the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga. Big Drama came out of his speed duel with Rachel in the Preakness to win a $250,000 stakes at Charles Town, and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird challenged Rachel approaching the stretch in the Haskell at Monmouth before winning the Travers at Saratoga.

Applying this angle to horses who competed in the Woodward, there could be a reward for following Bullsbay, Past the Point, Cool Coal Man, and Da' Tara. Da' Tara has failed to win in nine starts since his shocking upset in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, but he set a brisk Woodward pace before being eased approaching the stretch. The other three all made good early bids or challenged Rachel approaching the stretch to fit the pattern.

All that said, there remains one more historically important question concerning Rachel Alexandra that deserves a last ditch effort to resolve: How can we get this great filly into a race against the undefeated 5-year-old mare Zenyatta?

Forgive me for thinking far outside the box, but instead of failed attempts to lure them both to Santa Anita for added purse money, Breeders' Cup officials could still get the dream race if they made a radical, yet practical decision to move the $2 million BC Distaff to Churchill Downs while leaving the other 13 BC races at Santa Anita as scheduled.

While wildly unprecedented, all logistical issues actually could be resolved quickly if BC officials saw the imperative and both camps committed to the concept quickly, say by Oct. 1. Surely, such an historic centerpiece to a bi-coastal Breeders' Cup experience would boost interest in American horse racing beyond anything seen in decades. Should nothing come of this, we can only hope that Rachel Alexandra and (a still unbeaten?) Zenyatta will meet at top form in a suitable dirt race somewhere in America in 2010.