The career of one of Thoroughbred racing's most luminous stars came to an end Tuesday when it was announced reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra has been retired.
The announcement from majority owner Jess Jackson came one day after Rachel Alexandra turned in a bullet four-furlong breeze at Saratoga's Oklahoma Training Track.
Following a history-making 3-year-old campaign that saw Rachel Alexandra defeat males three times while winning all eight of her starts in 2009, her form came under question this year as she lost her first two starts this season, running second in both the New Orleans Ladies and the Grade II La Troienne.
The striking bay filly showed flashes of her old self when she scored back-to-back wins in the Grade II Fleur de Lis and Lady's Secret Stakes this summer, but her recent second-place finish in the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes — her first try at the 11/4-mile distance — proved too much of a setback.
"As you know, despite top training and a patient campaign, Rachel Alexandra did not return to her 2009 form. I believe it's time to retire our champion and reward her with a less stressful life," Jackson said in a statement. "We are delighted that she will retire healthy and happy to our beautiful farm in Kentucky.
"Rachel Alexandra owes us nothing," Jackson continued. "As a 3-year-old, she set standards and records that no filly before her ever achieved. And I suspect it will be quite a while before a 3-year-old filly ever equals or surpasses her achievements."
Jackson added in the statement that Rachel Alexandra would be bred to his two-time Horse of the Year champion Curlin next year.
"Imagine what possibilities those two superhorses might produce," he said.
Bred and originally campaigned by Dolphus Morrison, Rachel Alexandra began her career under the guidance of veteran trainer Hal Wiggins, who had also conditioned her dam, Lotta Kim.
For all the promise she showed in winning three of her six starts during her 2-year-old season, Rachel Alexandra surpassed even the loftiest of aspirations once she got her sophomore campaign under way.
The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro won her first three starts last year by a combined 181/2 lengths, but it was the 2009 Kentucky Oaks where she truly showed the racing world what kind of otherworldly talent she possessed.
With regular jockey Calvin Borel simply along as a passenger, Rachel Alexandra romped to a record 201/4-length win in the Oaks, hitting the wire just 0.23 of a second off the stakes mark.
"The week leading up to the Oaks to us was just as thrilling and memorable as her crossing the line," Wiggins said in an interview with the Herald-Leader last November. "Also when you train for someone (Morrison) for 30 years and you win a race like that with them, that's just the ultimate for us."
Days after the Oaks, Morrison sold Rachel Alexandra to Jackson and partner Harold McCormick and she was subsequently transferred to the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen.
Her new connections wasted no time plotting an ambitious course for Rachel Alexandra as she was promptly entered in the Preakness Stakes, where she defeated Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird by a length to become the first filly in 85 years to capture the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
In addition to winning the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes by 191/4 lengths, Rachel Alexandra would go on to defeat males twice more, demolishing eventual champion Summer Bird by six lengths in the Grade I Haskell Invitational and then taking down older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes last September to cap off her season.
"Rachel Alexandra waged a 3-year-old campaign that was nothing short of historic — both for its flawlessness and its ambition," Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement.
Unrivaled as Rachel Alexandra's 3-year-old campaign was, there are some who think the taxing nature of what she accomplished may have hindered her from reaching a similar level this year.
"It was a tough campaign but it sure was great for racing," said trainer Shug McGaughey, who saddled Persistently to victory over Rachel Alexandra in the Personal Ensign. "Did it take a bit out of her? Maybe it did. But she's still a fabulous filly."
Even with its blemishes, Rachel Alexandra's record is one that will almost certainly see her name engraved on a plaque in racing's Hall of Fame. She retires with 13 wins from 19 career starts, including five Grade I triumphs, with earnings of $3,506,730.
"I have been blessed to have been part of history," Asmussen said in a statement. "The fans adored her, we all did. She had the most fluid and beautiful stride of any horse I have ever seen. It's been quite a ride."