A year ago, it was all about finding out how deep the well ran inside Rachel Alexandra.
A fistful of landmark victories resulted in Horse of the Year honors. But in her 4-year-old season, the tone of Rachel Alexandra's campaign is decidedly different.
The main objective now is getting to the Breeders' Cup and making sure the foundation that dominated racing in 2009 is rebuilt to its former strength.
On Saturday, the champion bay filly squares off against what appears to be six vastly overmatched rivals in the $400,000 Lady's Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park.
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Rachel Alexandra began the year with runner-up efforts in the New Orleans Ladies and the Grade II La Troienne Stakes — the first back-to-back losses of her 17-race career — but she seemed to get back on form with a 101/2-length victory in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 12.
Many expected that victory to spur Rachel Alexandra's return to Grade I company. But Monmouth officials pulled off a coup when they increased the purse of the ungraded Lady's Secret from $150,000, moved up the race by one week, and extended the distance from 11⁄16 miles to 11⁄8 miles, all in a successful attempt to secure the presence of one of racing's brightest stars.
The Lady's Secret will hardly represent Rachel Alexandra's stiffest test. But as majority owner Jess Jackson has said repeatedly this season, it's about getting her to peak at year's end — preferably in the Breeders' Cup.
"I feel great about her," Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, said Friday morning. "She's doing great from a maturity standpoint. She's a bigger, stronger horse than she was last year. She knows how to work, and she knows how to rest. She's just doing great."
For a filly who won five Grade I races last year, including victories over males in the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes, the Lady's Secret should — on paper — represent little more than a paid showcase for her fans.
The only other horses in the field with stakes wins to their credit are Ask the Moon and Yes She's a Lady. Virtually all the entrants possess early speed, but the likelihood of any of them staying with the reigning Horse of the Year is slim at best.
"I think we are running for second," said trainer Patrick Biancone, who will send out Robert Trussell's Queen Martha in the race. "But second would be good."
Devil May Care ready
Among the contenders vying to take over Rachel Alexandra's mantle as the champion 3-year-old filly this year is Glencrest Farm's multiple Grade I winner Devil May Care, who will also be in action Saturday in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks.
The bay daughter of Malibu Moon rebounded from a 10th-place run in the Kentucky Derby to win the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes by 11/4 lengths at Belmont on June 26 and looms as the 6-5 morning-line choice against seven others in the 11⁄8-mile race.
"We've kept her on our maintenance program, and she's fit, happy and, we hope, ready to run another good race," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Devil May Care.
The Usual Q.T. heads field for Eddie Read Stakes
Saturday's packed slate of racing includes another stellar Grade I test in the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes over the turf at Del Mar.
Of the seven horses in the field, four are Grade/Group I winners, including 2009 Hollywood Derby winner The Usual Q.T.
"The horse is doing very well and continues to be very consistent," trainer Jim Cassidy said. "I expect him to be off the pace and come running at the end, which is his style. I think there'll be plenty of speed in the race to set that up."