04/29/2010 11:00PM

Unrivaled Belle beats Rachel Alexandra

Barbara D. Livingston
Unrivaled Belle (left) edges Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne on Friday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Unrivaled Belle handed Rachel Alexandra her second consecutive shocking defeat of the season, outgaming the reigning Horse of the Year through the stretch to post a head victory in Friday's at Churchill Downs.

Rachel Alexandra was returning to Churchill Downs for the first time since her sensational 20 1/4-length triumph in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. She came into the Grade 2 La Troienne attempting to rebound from her disappointing three-quarter-length loss at the hands of Zardana to open her 4-year-old campaign in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds on March 13.

Bet down to 1-5 favoritism, Rachel Alexandra contested a relatively slow early pace with Be Fair in the 1 1/16-mile La Troienne while well held and racing a bit wide under jockey Calvin Borel. Rachel Alexandratook a short advantage into the second turn but was quickly joined by Unrivaled Belle approaching the quarter pole. The pair raced as a team through the stretch with Rachel Alexandra failing to change leads until just inside the eighth pole. Unrivaled Belle ultimately asserted her superiority in the final 100 yards.

"Obviously I'm discouraged," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who trains Rachel Alexandra for owner Jess Jackson. "I don't run a horse to get beat by any means. Especially a horse like Rachel. But it would not be very effective to have any knee jerk reactions to this."

Despite the loss, Asmussen put a positive spin on the race.

"I thought she was very comfortable, nice and relaxed, she's just not quite as fast as she was last year," said Asmussen. "She was steady today but not quick. I don't see any reason for her not to ultimately be as explosive as she was last year. She's just not there yet and it's possible this is somewhat of a hangover from her hard campaign last season."

Jackson emphasized several hours later that Rachel Alexandra "is not going to be retired."

"She'll need to get another race or two under her belt before she's back," said Jackson. "Her races last year took a lot out of her, specifically the Woodward, and after six months she's not ready to be back at 100 percent. This race didn't define her. I suspect she can improve 10 lengths off what we saw today. Steve and I are satisfied with the fact she came out of the race healthy. She's on her toes, and we're happy with her."

Jackson also had little comment when asked if Calvin Borel would ride Rachel Alexandra in her next start.

"I gave Calvin no directions before the race," said Jackson. "Maybe Steve did. I just told him to go out there and let her run. I was a little surprised by the result but the winner was obviously the better horse today."

Unrivaled Belle, a 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song owned by Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler, completed the distance in 1:42.97 over a fast track and paid $20.80. Unrivaled Belle, winner of Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 Rampart in her previous start, was ridden to victory by Kent Desormeaux for trainer Bill Mott.

Mott gave a lot of credit for Unrivaled Belle's performance to his assistant Ken McCarthy.

"Kenny spent a lot of time schooling her in the paddock after she arrived here from Florida and he found out a few things that seemed to work to prevent her from getting too anxious before her race," said Mott. "I never saw this coming but I imagined it coming and she should be applauded for her effort. Both fillies ran well and to beat last year's champion really says a lot."

Mott said he has not picked out a next start for Unrivaled Belle.

"There's a Grade 2 here in June," Mott said referring to the $200,000 Fleur de Lis, "but maybe as well as she ran today we'll raise our sights and look for a Grade 1 somewhere."

Morena finished third in the La Troienne, five lengths behind Rachel Alexandra. Zardana, the 5-1 second choice, could not duplicate her performance in the New Orleans Ladies, fading badly along the rail after prompting the early pace to check home a well-beaten fifth.