Trainer Hal Wiggins knew the moment was coming, but that didn't make the reality any easier.
Less than 12 hours after it was announced that wine mogul Jess Jackson had purchased Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra, the filly was officially transferred from Wiggins to the barn of Steve Asmussen on Thursday morning to begin the second half of her career with her new connections.
The bay filly departed Wiggins' barn at 5:15 a.m. and, shortly thereafter, galloped once around the Churchill Downs main track under exercise rider Dominic Terry.
"She is a graceful athlete; she moves like a ballerina and has the size of some of the colts," said Jackson, who purchased Rachel Alexandra in partnership with Harold McCormick. "I am looking forward to seeing her compete."
Jackson and McCormick bought the multiple graded stakes winner from Dolphus Morrison — who bred the filly — and his partner Mike Lauffer on Wednesday.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
For Wiggins, who had trained Rachel Alexandra to seven wins in 10 career starts including her 201/4-length romp in the Oaks, the sting of losing the best horse he ever trained was palpable.
"We have that empty stall right now, and it's hard, but we all realize it's part of the business," Wiggins said. "There is an empty spot, but we'll all get over it. We were blessed to have her and experience the joy of winning the Oaks here."
Soon after the sale became known, speculation was rampant that Rachel Alexandra's new owners would put up the $100,000 needed to supplement her into the Preakness Stakes.
However, Jackson and Asmussen both stated no decision had been made on where the filly would make her next start.
"The ink is not even dry yet," Jackson said. "The only decision was to bring her to Steve's barn."
"We just got her today and we have no timetable or any plans to announce at this time," Asmussen added.
Pimlico Race Course, the home of the Preakness, was contacted by a representative of Jackson's Stonestreet Stables on Tuesday inquiring about a supplement for an unspecified horse but has not heard from the camp since.
Rachel Alexandra entering the Preakness field could present a quandary for jockey Calvin Borel. Borel has been aboard the filly throughout her current five-race win streak but also guided Mine That Bird to his upset victory in the Kentucky Derby.
"I talked with Calvin's agent (Jerry Hissam) and at this time they know nothing so we're just going to wait and see what happens," said Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr., trainer of Mine That Bird. "I hate the situation for Calvin if it happens but I can't blame him one bit if he wants to ride that filly, can't blame him at all."
Borel didn't hesitate Thursday when asked who he would pick if forced to make a choice between Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird.
"Oh, the filly, I'd have no choice," Borel told the Daily Racing Form. "She's a once-in-a-lifetime horse."
Still, even if Jackson and Co. opt to supplement Rachel Alexandra into the second leg of the Triple Crown, circumstances could keep her from facing the boys.
Since Rachel Alexandra is not Triple Crown-nominated, she could only get into the Preakness if less than 14 horses — the maximum field size for the race — are entered.
"I was trying to convince (trainer) Bob Baffert this morning (to enter more horses) because if we get 14 entries she'd be on the sidelines," joked Gary Stute, trainer of Papa Clem, who ran fourth in the Derby. "To be honest, it really disappointed me (when I heard of the possibility of her being entered) because ... I thought I had one heck of a shot in the Preakness. But I think that filly is in a different world than the rest of us."
Pioneerof the Nile owner Ahmed Zayat told the Thoroughbred Times on Thursday that the Baffert-trained Derby runner-up would run in the Preakness, increasing the number of confirmed starters to 10.
Trainer Larry Jones said he plans to work Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire — who injured his left front foot during his 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby — 5 furlongs at Pimlico on Tuesday, then decide if he'll run in the Preakness.
"He is healing up very quickly," Jones said.
Others still considering the middle jewel are Tone It Down and Conservative.
Morrison, who also bred Rachel Alexandra's dam, Lotta Kim, stated he was flooded with "all kinds of goofy calls" after the filly's stirring Oaks triumph, but that the interest from Jackson manifested a couple of days ago.
While he acknowledged the decision to part with his first Grade I winner was difficult, Morrison explained "economically, it was not a dumb thing to do.
"We do feel a little like we've lost a member of our family but we still have the momma (Lotta Kim) and the half sister," he said. "We just decided to take advantage of a substantial offer.
"If they do (run her in the Preakness), that's their business," Morrison continued. "I think they'll take good care of this (filly) and I don't think, regardless, they would put her in a precarious position."