On Saturday, horse racing turns its focus to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the elusive Triple Crown. Hundreds of miles away, a bay foal has no idea that some expect to see him in the starting gate of that very race in 2015.
For about 20 hours a day, the colt basks in the sunshine and moonlight of central Kentucky. His mom is always nearby in case he wants a snack, and he has buddies to play with should he be so inclined. More often than not, though, he is content to meander about, nibbling on some grass here and there.
He has no idea the racing world already has lofty expectations for his future. Because what he doesn't know is that his parents are horse racing royalty. And he, their child, was special the second he made his way into the world.
Although thousands of foals dot the Kentucky landscape every spring, this particular foal's birth made headlines. For you see, his father and his mother were both crowned Horse of the Year during their racing careers, and they both displayed their brilliance in the Preakness.
"Taco," as he is affectionately known around the barn, has no way of knowing that his father retired the richest racehorse in North American history and his mother won races fillies simply aren't supposed to win.
What's more, they both used the Preakness to serve notice to the racing world that they were not your average, everyday racehorse.
The colt's father, Curlin, won his first Grade 1 race when he took the Preakness in 2007. Coming into the race, no one doubted Curlin's natural ability. In just his fourth career start, he finished a game third in the Kentucky Derby. The winner that day, Street Sense, had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile the year before and was already a champion.
Two weeks later, when Curlin out-dueled Street Sense to the wire in the Preakness, it was clear that he had no intention of letting his talent go to waste. He would go on to win six more Grade 1 races, including the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup, during a career that spanned two Horse of the Year campaigns and $10,501,800 in earnings.
A mere two years later, Taco's mother would set the racing world on its ear when she became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness.
Before winning in Baltimore, Rachel Alexandra put on a show in the Kentucky Oaks, winning by 20¼ lengths. Many thought she would have won the Derby if she had been entered. After that victory, she was sold privately to Jess Jackson, the same man who won the Preakness with Curlin, and he entered her in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Racing is full of "what-ifs" but in 2009, Rachel Alexandra removed any doubt that she was the best 3-year-old of either gender by winning the Preakness. I was there that day, and the two things I remember most are the pandemonium that broke out when she crossed the wire first and the very real fear I was going to die because the press balcony at Pimlico was creaking under the weight of said pandemonium.
In her next start, Rachel Alexandra again shamed the members of her own sex by taking the Mother Goose by 19¼ lengths. The horse behind her, Malibu Prayer, would go on to become a Grade 1 winner in her own right.
After that, Rachel Alexandra returned to beating up the boys. She took the Haskell over Belmont Stakes winner (and eventual champion) Summer Bird, before making history by becoming the first filly to win the Woodward Stakes. In 2011, Harve de Grace also won the Woodward on her way to being Horse of the Year, but Rachel Alexandra remains the only 3-year-old filly to best older males in that particular contest.
All told, Rachel Alexandra ran eight times in 2009, and no horse of any age or gender managed to finish in front of her. The filly with the distinctive broken blaze also graced the pages of Vogue magazine that year.
It was Jackson's dream that his two champions have a foal together, and Taco is the result. He is the first foal whose mother and father both won the Preakness, and the fact they were campaigned by the same connections makes it unique. Sadly, Jackson did not live to see the colt take his wobbly first steps. The wine magnate passed away in 2011 due to complications from cancer at age 81.
His death was not the end of his Stonestreet Stables, though. His wife, Barbara Banke, has kept the racing and breeding operation up and running.
It is behind the protective gates of Stonestreet Farm in Kentucky that Rachel Alexandra and her foal spend their days basking in the glory of simply being horses. A few miles down the road, at Lane's End Farm, Curlin holds court as a promising young stallion.
The folks at Stonestreet are doing their best to raise Rachel Alexandra's firstborn like any other foal, and he has been a healthy, happy boy since he was born Jan. 22.
"We are just trying to raise him as normally as possible and give him a normal life," said farm manager Gary Megibben. "The guys like to go in there and put their hands on him, and of course they have all had their pictures taken with him, but outside of that, on a normal day he is treated like any other horse. If you keep them in a good, healthy routine, they do a lot better."
Taco is just a barn name until the colt is given his official racing name. Stonestreet held a contest earlier this year to name the colt, and they received more than 6,500 entries. They hope to declare a winner this summer, and although the deadline has long passed for submissions, that hasn't kept people from continuing to send in suggestions.
It also isn't unheard of for people to try to get into Stonestreet to see the champion mare unannounced. As such, it comes as no surprise that perhaps the one special treatment Rachel and her foal receive is 24-hour security.
Although many fillies and mares disappear from the public eye once their racing days are over, Stonestreet has made an effort to keep Rachel available to the public. Last year, the farm held several "See Rachel" days when fans were invited to sign up to come to the farm.
"There are a lot of people out there that are fanatical fans, which is great," Megibben said. "It is what the sport needs. We appreciate the fans, and the people that have come here have been really respectful. They can come up to Rachel and put their hands on her and get their picture taken with her. A lot of people come here thinking they are just going to see her out in the paddock. She has handled it great, and she is the one that really has made it happen."
Although no "See Rachel" days are being held while she has a foal at her side, the folks at Stonestreet have held fun contests via social media to bring smaller groups to the farm.
As for Rachel Alexandra herself, she has become best friends with her paddock mate, Hot Dixie Chick, and they pass the days in quiet contentment. Both had colts by Curlin this year. Rachel Alexandra is now in foal to Bernardini, while Hot Dixie Chick is in foal to Street Cry.
"When she got here, it was like she knew this was her calling," Megibben said. "She and Dixie have been the two tightest mares I have ever been around, and I have been around broodmares all my life. They graze nose to nose all day long. Mr. Jackson wanted me to buddy her up, and Hot Dixie Chick was there, and it has been the best thing that has happened to them."
Megibben also doesn't take being around such a special mare for granted.
"When you do this for a living, you dream of being around a horse that can be referred to as arguably the greatest filly ever," he said. "Having the opportunity to be around her any time of day I want, well, I take the liberty and choose to be around her a lot. A lot of mornings I am checking on her before my kids are out of bed, and sometimes after I put my kids to bed, I come back and check on her."
What the future holds for Rachel's first foal is anybody's guess. Expecting him to follow in his parents' hoofprints is an unfair burden, even if the colt is blissfully unaware of it. However, should the fates align and he does break from the starting gate in the 2015 Preakness, well, I am sure it will be pandemonium all over again. And somewhere, Jess Jackson will be smiling.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.