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'Rachel' content with new life

It's that time of year again. The little ones are dropping like snowflakes. Every day, the social-media sites are filled with photos of freshly minted foals, most of them from regal lineage and all of them so cute you want to reach out and tweak their little digital noses.

Retired jockey Danny Sorenson and his wife, Kimberly, welcomed the first foal born at their Texas ranch this week, a son of the rapid Euroears. On Fire Baby, the winner of the Apple Blossom and La Troienne, is in Kentucky fussing with her new filly by Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. Down the road at Darley, Hollywood Oaks winner Panty Raid has a Tapit foal who is already up to mom's chin. And across the pond, there's three-time Breeders' Cup winner Goldikova alongside her little daughter by Intello. What's French for "awwww"?

This annual rite of late winter and spring is a balm to the hurly-burly of the racetrack. Most of the mares being celebrated in birth announcements paid their dues with racing careers full of toil and dangerous competition, and now their lives have softened into a cycle of gestation, foaling, and weaning of their young.

Then there is Rachel Alexandra.

"I just saw Rachel today out in the snow here in Kentucky," said Barbara Banke, who is carrying on the Stonestreet Farm banner that rose to prominence under her late husband, Jess Jackson.

"She's loving life and doing great," Banke added. "She's got two retired mares as her posse, along with her nice stall and all the peppermints she wants from lots of admirers. She's a beautiful, beautiful horse, and she's gotten a lot nicer as she's aged. She was kind of a diva at the track."

She is also without a foal, either in utero or at her side, for the third straight year.

By all measures of greatness, Rachel Alexandra was a diva who delivered. She won 13 of 19 lifetime starts, including all nine of her races during a giddy 2009 season in which she took the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths, the Preakness Stakes over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, the Haskell Invitational over Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, and the Woodward Stakes against older males. Her record was deemed good enough to outpoll Zenyatta, the unbeaten Breeders' Cup Classic winner, for Horse of the Year.

The arm's-length rivalry between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta was never resolved on the track, resulting in a trumped-up competition between the two as broodmares mounted by stubborn fans. Zenyatta has had three foals and is expecting a fourth this spring, but so far, she has yet to boast of a winner. Rachel Alexandra's two foals are both winners, including 2015 Spinaway Stakes winner Rachel's Valentina.

The idea that great racemares should be great producers has been perpetuated by the likes of Twilight Tear, Straight Deal, Convenience, Glorious Song, and Personal Ensign. You could pretty much breed any one of them to a fence post and come up with a serious racehorse.

Then again, the mysteries of procreation dictated that Hall of Fame racemares like Regret, Gallorette, Genuine Risk, Gamely, All Along, and Gallant Bloom left nothing much behind as broodmares. It's pretty much a roll of the dice.

In the case of Rachel Alexandra, there is little doubt that she was on her way to becoming a breeding pearl of great price. Rachel's Valentina certified her Spinaway form with a solid second behind division champion Songbird in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and was herself a finalist for the Eclipse Award.

But the birth of Rachel's Valentina was fraught with complications, and Rachel Alexandra required surgery to removed a piece of colon damaged in the foaling. Banke has not bred her since then.

"We check her all the time," Banke said. "There's always a chance she could be bred again -- you can never say never -- but I don't think my nerves could take it. That was a very tough thing to go through with her. I'm happy to see her happy and healthy just the way she is."

So, life goes on. Rachel's Valentina, who turned 3 on Feb. 12, is back with Todd Pletcher at Palm Meadows preparing for her 2016 campaign. Samantha Nicole, Rachel Alexandra's younger full sister, has entered the Stonestreet broodmare band and will be bred for the first time this year to Bernardini, the sire of Rachel's Valentina. If that is not enough, on Saturday at Fair Grounds, they will run the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies who aspire to follow in some very large footsteps.

"I have a horse running in the Rachel Alexandra," Banke said. "Her name is Royal Obsession, and she's won both her races so far."

In the coming weeks, Rachel Alexandra's name will appear on the annual ballot for the Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility. Banke was told she probably should make plans to be in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for the induction ceremony.

"I hope so," she said with a laugh. "I think she deserves it."

She is not alone.