Horses

'Alexandra' the great?

If there is one thing the racing industry has taught Dolphus Morrison over the years, it's not to let the elation that comes with the sport's highs cloud his better judgment.

"It's like anything in life; if you get overly excited you make mistakes," the longtime owner and breeder said.

In the five days since his filly Rachel Alexandra made her first appearance of 2009 at Oaklawn Park, Morrison's level-headed restraint has been put through some rigorous tests.

The 3-year-old debut of Old Fashioned in Monday's Grade III Southwest Stakes may have been the most anticipated race of the last week, but it was Rachel Alexandra's win one day earlier that has garnered arguably the most buzz since.

In her first start in more than two months, Rachel Alexandra demolished her foes by eight lengths in the $50,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn last Sunday, capturing the one-mile test in a stakes-record time of 1:36.40.

The ease at which the graded stakes-winning daughter of Medaglia d'Oro strolled across the finish line was impressive in its own right, but the following day provided another interesting aspect of the victory.

Not only was her final time 22⁄5 seconds faster than the previous stakes record, it was a full second faster than Old Fashioned's winning time in the Southwest (1:37.41).

While she was not among the early nominees to the Triple Crown, it hasn't stopped some from mentioning Rachel Alexandra's name as one of the top 3-year-olds of either sex so far this season.

"The phone lines have melted," Morrison laughed when asked if he had received any inquiries to purchase his homebred filly. "We're not selling her unless we can get a substantial price, but she's not for sale, really. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity having a filly like her."

Although Morrison and his wife Ellen are admittedly careful about getting too attached to their bloodstock, Rachel Alexandra holds special meaning that goes beyond what she has accomplished on the track.

Morrison, who lives in Columbia, Missouri, also bred and campaigned Rachel Alexandra's dam, Lotta Kim, winner of the 2004 Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Shortly after her win in the Tiffany Lass, however, Lotta Kim suffered a career-ending injury when she sustained a gash near her hip that required 278 stitches to close, according to Morrison, after a run-in with a loose horse one morning.

"We were lucky to even save her because it was nip and tuck for about a week," said Morrison, who co-owns Rachel Alexandra along with Michael Lauffer. "She recovered, and we bred her to Medaglia d'Oro and this is what we got."

What they got was a filly that veteran trainer Hal Wiggins proclaimed may be the best he's ever conditioned.

In her four victories from seven career starts, the versatile Rachel Alexandra has won over both dirt and synthetic surfaces and won at distances from five furlongs to 11⁄16 miles.

After breaking her maiden at Churchill Downs and winning an allowance race at Keeneland two starts later, Rachel Alexandra drew attention when she defeated a field that included Grade I winner Dream Empress by 43/4 lengths in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill last November.

Although champion Stardom Bound currently reigns over the 3-year-old filly division, Wiggins likes the hand he currently holds as they march toward their ultimate goal of the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 1.

"I think one advantage we had is we've run on dirt and Polytrack, and Stardom Bound has not yet been on dirt," said Wiggins, who also trained Lotta Kim for Morrison. "I'm not saying our filly is better, but I think we have an advantage."

The next start for Rachel Alexandra will likely come in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks on March 14. She will attempt to give Wiggins — the leading trainer at Keeneland's 1998 Fall Meet — his fourth career graded stakes win.

"I didn't know what to expect (in the Martha Washington) with her being off for two and a half months, but she just answered a lot of questions," Wiggins said. "We'll breeze her a few times, but I'm not going to be too serious with her now because she's ready for anything."

  Comments