LOUISVILLE — The connections of Rachel Alexandra have tried for months to tell the racing world there was no need for panic, that just because the reigning Horse of the Year hadn't yet regained her past form didn't mean it was lost forever.
But all those words weren't nearly as powerful as Rachel Alexandra's actions in Saturday's Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.
After beginning her season with two stunning runner-up efforts that had many wondering if her best days were over, Rachel Alexandra showcased some of her old brilliance with a 101/2-length romp over four others in the Fleur de Lis.
The level of competition in the Grade II race was hardly what Rachel Alexandra faced last year when she rattled off historic wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes among others.
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But considering the 4-year-old had suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in her career — including a defeat to Unrivaled Belle in the Grade II La Troienne at Churchill on April 30 — it was both a thrill and a relief for those closest to her to see the filly easily drawing clear under jockey Calvin Borel.
"This is the race we wanted," majority owner Jess Jackson said. "We needed a decent prep where she could show some brilliance at the end. She's not 100 percent yet compared to what she was last year, but we planned her progression to go slow so that she can last a whole season.
"I guess there is some relief because naysayers were saying she was done and no horse has come back and all of that. But this is part of the progression we were looking for."
Sent off as the overwhelming 1-9 favorite, Rachel Alexandra broke well and angled just to the outside of Jessica Is Back as the two ran side by side through an opening quarter in :23.93 and a half in :47.25.
When the duo reached the turn for home, Rachel Alexandra began putting her front-running rival away and stirring the appreciative Churchill crowd to their feet.
"I think (Borel) gathered her up and ... she just accelerated away," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "It was just beautiful Rachel after that."
After turning back a brief challenge from Distinctive Dixie, Borel barely shook the reins at Rachel Alexandra and let her cruise under her own power to cover the 11⁄8 miles in 1:48.78 — faster than the 1:49.37 Blame recorded while winning the Grade I Stephen Foster later on the card.
Distinctive Dixie held for second with Jessica Is Back 2 lengths farther back in third.
"Today she was just ready," said Borel, who guided the filly to her 12th win in 17 career starts. "You have to give her a chance. She's a filly, she did the impossible as a 3-year-old. I think you'll see a great future now. Believe me, she's back to her old self."
Jackson did not reveal the date or location of Rachel Alexandra's next race, only reiterating the Breeders' Cup at Churchill was the ultimate goal.
"Let's see how she comes out, take a look at how she progressed and how she reacts after it," Jackson said. "It's not out of the realm we'll go against the boys again. It's up to the lady to tell us."
In other graded stakes races on the Stephen Foster undercard, Colizeo defeated Wordly by a neck to win the Grade III Northern Dancer going 11⁄16 miles on the main track, Gleam of Hope rallied from last to take the Grade III Jefferson Cup on the turf, and Caminadora won the Grade III Regret Stakes by three-quarters of a length over the turf.