Thursday, June 25, 2009
Rachel back against girls
By David Grening
Daily Racing Form
ELMONT, N.Y. -- The recent failures of odds-on favorites in stakes races here this month would make one think we're at Saratoga and not Belmont Park. No less than six "sure things" have been defeated in stakes since June 6, including champions Forever Together and Kip Deville and Eclipse Award finalists Music Note and Cocoa Beach.
At least the connections of the four 3-year-old fillies taking on likely 1-5 favorite Rachel Alexandra in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes have something to hang their hat on.
The reality is, however, that Rachel Alexandra getting beat in the Mother Goose would trump all of the other upsets at this meet. Rachel Alexandra brings a six-race winning streak into the Mother Goose, including a victory against Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and 11 other males in the Preakness Stakes six weeks ago.
"She looks unbeatable, really, with fillies," said trainer Mark Hennig, who will saddle Florida Oaks winner Don't Forget Gil against Rachel Alexandra. "I thought Mine That Bird was taking a pretty good run at her, but we're not running Mine That Bird."
Perhaps the true unknown is just how much, if anything, did the Preakness take out of Rachel Alexandra, and has she truly recovered from that race? Her training has indicated to her connections that she's back, but a race will tell the tale.
"This is still a test of how much the Preakness did take out of her," Steve Asmussen, who only began training Rachel Alexandra 10 days before the Preakness, said Thursday.
Asmussen said skipping the Belmont Stakes with Rachel Alexandra "was the way to go," and after conferring with owner Jess Jackson, the Mother Goose became the logical next race.
"We have a high level of comfort with her," Asmussen said. "She's got a wonderful attitude; she looks beautiful on the racetrack. She did get hot Preakness Day, especially right after the race, and we were just monitoring that."
While Asmussen said he didn't feel any pressure running such a heavy favorite, he does understand that anything can happen in a race.
"I like running the fast ones, so I'm excited," he said. "But the great benefit of growing up in the game is knowing they're so sure of the outcome they'll let you bet on it."
The Mother Goose is a 1 1/8-mile race run around one turn. Rachel Alexandra's six straight wins have all been around two turns. Her last loss - a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill last fall - was in a one-turn race.
Calvin Borel, who is 6 for 6 on Rachel Alexandra, doesn't see the one turn as an issue. Having already hailed Rachel Alexandra as the best horse he has ever ridden -- and he has ridden two Kentucky Derby winners - Borel enters the race supremely confident.
"It really won't matter," Borel said. "She puts herself into the race early. We might go a little quicker because we won't be going around a turn [early]. I'll place her where she's comfortable and go from there. She's a very versatile filly. I'll ride my filly with the confidence that I have in her and do my best."
Rachel Alexandra breaks from post 3. The horse with the best chance of beating her, Flashing, will break from post 5. Like Rachel Alexandra, Flashing is a speed horse, and it could be an interesting game of cat and mouse between Borel and Flashing's rider, Javier Castellano.
Flashing, who will run in the blue silks of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing and will be saddled by Saeed bin Suroor for the first time, has won 4 of 5 starts including the Grade 3 Nassau County. Her lone loss came in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct in January. Tom Albertrani, her previous trainer, noted that Flashing got upset in the race-day security barn that day and also didn't have a smooth trip.
Malibu Prayer has won her last two, and trainer Todd Pletcher believes she is an extremely talented filly.
"We're not projecting victory or anything, but this filly is doing very well," Pletcher said. "I thought her last couple of breezes have been exceptional. She looks great, she's coming up to it well. I think she'll keep everybody honest, anyway."
Hopeful Image, a 30-1 longshot, rounds out the field.
In honor of Rachel Alexandra's New York debut, all women will be admitted free to Belmont Park. The first 10,000 fans will receive a pink bracelet with Rachel Alexandra's name on it.
The Mother Goose, which goes as race 9 on a 10-race program, is the third leg of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $350,000. In addition to TVG and HRTV, the Mother Goose will be shown live on MSG-Plus, in a 30-minute program beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.