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On the Occasion of Rachel Alexandra’s Retirement

Rachel Alexandra gallops into retirementI had been planning a blog comeback for next week, coinciding with the release of Secretariat (the film, not some sort of terrifying reanimated zombie Secretariat), but a number of news stories earlier in the day – notably Kingmambo being pensioned and Real Quiet’s death in Pennsylvania yesterday – seemed likely to get me back to in action slightly ahead of schedule.  But this afternoon’s news that Rachel Alexandra has been retired accelerated the schedule considerably; the news is not entirely unexpected (despite her bullet work yesterday), and it certainly merits recognition.

No one would claim that Rachel Alexandra’s form this year compares to her history-making run last year, but the fact that she was brought back at all – and that she was given time to try to work back to her best, even if she never quite got there – should be commended.  It’s rare enough these days to see a top horse back again after a championship year, and it’s easy enough to imagine circumstances under which she (or he – I understand there are occasionally good male horses around as well) would have been retired immediately after the first loss.  It would have made financial sense to whisk her off to the breeding shed in March or April, but she stayed in training – and it was worth taking the shot, if only to let more fans see her in person.

Arguments will likely be made that her Woodward victory ‘took too much out of her,’ but I wonder if that would be the perception had she been retired later last winter – or if she were male.  The ‘lost the will to race’ scenario does come up in relation to some colts – notably regarding Sham running into a monster in Secretariat – but it will no doubt be invoked.  Rachel Alexandra seemed to enjoy working, though – if we’re going to anthropomorphize her thoughts, perhaps she simply felt she had nothing else to prove when it came to racetime.

While it’s very immediate for us, this season is not what she will be remembered for; for great horses, only the year that fits the mythology is relevant.  We (should) recall Busher and Twilight Tear for their historic victories – the other elements in their resumes are mere footnotes.  We may spend the next several years arguing over her best race or what stallion she should be sent to (more on that in a moment), but the history books (and, one hopes, documentaries and eventual fictionalized film treatments) will highlight the wins – and that’s all.

But back to the present; while it was a foregone conclusion that she would be sent to Curlin, it would be lovely to see Rachel Alexandra matched up with a more interesting stallion.  That’s not to downplay Curlin’s achievements, but I simply believe there might be more success with a top European stallion – there’s potential for a great miler to be produced (though expecting lightning to strike twice is obviously not recommended).

I count myself lucky to have seen Rachel Alexandra win the Preakness and the Haskell; the Haskell, in particular, was like nothing else I have ever seen in person – I can only compare the sensation of seeing it to watching video replays of Secretariat’s Belmont.  (That’s not to say it’s necessarily on the same level, since nothing else could possibly exist in that category – simply that it packed a similar emotional punch).  I am curious to know what Bill Nack thought – there is a sense that no great racehorse’s career can be truly summed up without his benediction (and I mean that quite sincerely).

One hopes that there will be some ongoing coverage of Rachel Alexandra’s next career – so frequently, great racemares simply seem to disappear on the larger stud farms.  Given that the number of wonderfully memorable fillies and mares seems to be rather eclipsing the colts at present, perhaps it’s time for the farm tours to be reconfigured.

I know who I would rather see.

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