Horses

Rachel Alexandra: Champion filly to doting mother

"Taco" got a close-up while his mother, Rachel Alexandra, grazed in the background inside their paddock on Stonestreet Farm.
"Taco" got a close-up while his mother, Rachel Alexandra, grazed in the background inside their paddock on Stonestreet Farm. Herald-Leader

The same legs that once broke opponents' hearts by running them into the ground now stroll carefully around a Stonestreet Farm paddock, keeping a close, but not overbearing, watch on the bay colt nearby with the striking resemblance.

The same distinctive head that once thrust itself defiantly in front of male rivals now juts forward to greet one of her best girlfriends before their offspring embark on their daily play date.

While her presence remains as indomitable as ever, it is clear motherhood has changed champion Rachel Alexandra over the last few months.

She is indeed a softer version of her former fierce self. But even in retirement, Rachel Alexandra has still managed to produce a tiny piece of racing history.

When the leggy bay colt by Rachel Alexandra's side was born at Stonestreet on Jan. 22, whimsical fans began to speculate whether the first foal out of the 2009 Horse of the Year and sired by fellow champion and Lane's End stallion Curlin was already a leading candidate for the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

Considering who his parents are, however, the independent colt currently nicknamed "Taco" might actually be penciled in as the morning-line pick for what would be the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes three years from now.

With Rachel Alexandra capturing the 2009 Preakness and Curlin having surged to victory in the race two years prior, their months-old foal is believed to be the first offspring ever produced from a mating between two winners of the middle leg of the Triple Crown.

Both Curlin and Rachel Alexandra were campaigned by the late Jess Jackson, founder of Stonestreet, and his wife Barbara Banke. And for both champions, their Preakness triumphs served as a grand announcement of the greatness they would both build upon.

When Curlin outfought Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense by a head in the Pimlico stretch, it marked the first of what would be seven Grade I wins in a career that would see him earn two Horse of the Year titles and retire as North America's all-time leading money earner.

Similarly, Rachel Alexandra's 1-length win over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird two years later was historic on many levels. In becoming the first filly since 1924 to triumph in the Preakness, the bay daughter of Medaglia d'Oro also earned the first of what would be three wins against males that season.

"There is so much emotion wrapped up in him, so sentimental," Amy Kearns, Stonestreet's digital media manager, said of the Rachel-Curlin foal. "Jess (Jackson) came into the sport and wanted to bring heroes back. He did that with Curlin and then he did it again in spectacular fashion with Rachel. And then he bred his two champions and ... there he is."

As Stonestreet's security foreman for both Rachel Alexandra and Curlin during their racing days, Kearns had a front-row view for the impact "Taco's" parents made. When Rachel Alexandra first arrived in trainer Steve Asmussen's barn following Jackson's purchase of her days after her record-setting victory in the Kentucky Oaks, Kearns said it was obvious their days of being around a future Hall of Famer didn't end with Curlin's retirement.

"I remember when (Rachel) first walked into the barn at Churchill and we all quickly realized she was probably smarter than all of us," Kearns recalled. "She was kind of intimidating, and that's a lot to say because we had all been with Curlin, too."

When Jackson announced he was sending his newly purchased filly against the boys two weeks after her Oaks win, it was a gamble that easily could have produced immeasurable fallout had Rachel Alexandra not delivered at least an admirable effort.

All those concerns were for naught in the stretch of the 13⁄16-mile classic as she opened up a 4-length advantage under jockey Calvin Borel and stubbornly held on as the cheers of 77,850 fans shook Old Hilltop to its foundation.

"I just remember looking it the crowd and seeing the happiness on people's faces and the tears," Kearns said. "I know people were betting on other horses but it felt like everybody was rooting for Rachel at the end and that was just so special.

"The hot walker that was with Curlin was also with Rachel and ... she kind of needed to prove something to him," Kearns continued. "I remember when we went to Baltimore he wore his Curlin hat. And on the way home, he wore a Rachel Alexandra hat. For him, that said a lot for him to switch."

Where she once trounced members of both sexes, the 6-year-old Rachel Alexandra — who is currently in foal to Darley sire and 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini — has now firmly settled in to being a girls' girl. Her paddock mate, former Grade I winner Hot Dixie Chick, are the best of friends, together keeping watch on their respective Curlin babies.

"She has really sweetened up quite a bit ... and since she's had the foal, she's been a very good mother," said Garry Megibben, manager of Stone-street Farm. "(The foal) has been independent since Day 1 but she keeps a presence over him, she always knows where he is. She's just been the perfect broodmare."

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