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Rachel Alexandra Gallops, Schools on Ladies Eve
Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra made two appearances on the eve of her 4-year old debut in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies, turning in a strong six-furlong gallop early in the morning and then wowing a crowd of admirers in the paddock during the afternoon’s fourth race.
The gallop came at 6:15 a.m., when the Medaglia d’Oro filly stepped onto the track at the half-mile gap and took a right-hand turn before getting straight to the task at hand. With regular exercise rider Dominic Terry up, Rachel Alexandra galloped very strongly from the three-eighths pole to the three-quarters pole. Following the exercise the champion filly was met by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and trainer Steve Asmussen, who walked her off the track back where they entered.
Later in the day Rachel Alexandra arrived in the paddock, at 2:20 p.m., with the horses entered for the fourth race, and followed the same routine as when she schooled during Saturday’s races. She was led by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and groom Javier Espinoza. Trainer Steve Asmussen was present, as were other members of the superstar’s usual entourage, including her hotwalker Juan Gonzalez and her security chief.
Unlike Saturday, Rachel Alexandra had company for today’s session. The last three stalls in the Fair Grounds paddock were occupied by, from left to right, schoolers Rachel Alexandra; Devil’s Humor, a promising 3-year-old filly by Distorted Humor out of multiple Grade I winner Fleet Renee making her debut for Asmussen in Saturday’s fourth race; and Zardana, the second choice in the New Orleans Ladies, from the barn of Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs.
None of the trio misbehaved in any way and all impressed onlookers with their good looks. Fans applauded the first time Rachel Alexandra walked around the ring, and one smitten railbird even cried out for “Rachel,” like a fan at the Oscars seeking a celebrity autograph.
On her final lap around the paddock, Rachel Alexandra pranced on her toes as she crossed the path to the racetrack.
Local Horsemen (and Women) Favor Rachel in a Walk
Can Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra possibly lose in Saturday’s $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds?
“No way,” said Donna Keen, wife of Fair Grounds-based trainer Dallas Keen on Friday morning during training hours. “She’s a diva!”
What happens if Rachel Alexandra goes on to face Breeders’ Cup Classic heroine Zenyatta in the Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom April 9?
“Well, we’ll have to see how she does tomorrow,” said Mrs. Keen. “She’s our horse, by that I mean everybody’s horse here at Fair Grounds. Everybody here at Fair Grounds loves her. Steve Asmussen (Rachel Alexandra’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer) is so good with all his horses. But he’s also good with other people’s horses. He’ll come up to horses in our barn when he’s walking by and hold his hands out. They all respond to him because he presents himself so well to them. All horses just seem to love Steve.”
Incidentally, one of Rachel Alexandra’s halters, signed by trainer Asmussen and Rachel Alexandra’s jockey Calvin Borel, is encased in a handsome shadow box on display at Fair Grounds and subject to bids during a silent auction that ends March 20. The two top bidders at the silent auction will be invited to continue to bid publicly at the Horsemen’s Dinner during the evening of March 26 – Fair Grounds Oaks Day.
Profits from the auction will go toward a barn-raising fundraiser for the Remember Me Racehorse Rescue facility operated by Donna and Dallas Keen. Remember Me Rescue placed 36 retired race horses in new homes in 2009, some of which were rescued from slaughter by the couple, but new horses on coming in constantly.
“We have to build a new barn at our facility because I refuse to stop taking in new horses,” said Donna Keen.
However, the two-part question about Rachel’s next two likely races was also put to others on the backstretch in recent days, including Fair Grounds-based trainer Bobby Barnett, who was for several years Oaklawn’s leading conditioner.
“I don’t think there’s any way they’ll beat her here tomorrow,” said Barnett, “and I don’t think she’ll get beat up there either. It’s always been her track up there, but I really think she takes her track with her wherever she goes.”
The two-part question was put to Frank Bernis, longtime assistant to Fair Grounds’ nine-time training champion Tom Amoss.
“No chance,” said Bernis, speaking of any potential upset Saturday at Fair Grounds. Concerning the possible meeting with Zenyatta, Bernis added, “that’s a tough call, but when Rachel’s at her top she’s a lot better horse than Zenyatta.”
New Orleans native Al Stall Jr., a three-time trainer champion at Fair Grounds, was less definitive – but only slightly.
“They all can be beat,” said Stall. Concerning Rachel’s possible future faceoff with Zenyatta, Stall added, “We’ll have to see how their comeback races go and how they (each) come back out of those. They’re very close.”
Eddie Johnston, one of the hottest trainers on the grounds in recent days: Can Rachel get beat Saturday?
“No,” he said. Asked about Rachel’s next possible assignment, he added, “The biggest question is, does she get enough out of the race tomorrow? If she does – she’ll beat Zenyatta. I think she’s just a better horse.”
Ruth Schmidt, assistant to Canadian-based trainer Josie Carroll, who winters at Fair Grounds: Can Rachel get beat Saturday?
“Not the way she’s been training,” Schmidt said. What about the next race, if it happens? “That’s a tough one,” said Schmidt. “It depends on how the race sets up. They’re both obviously stupendous fillies.”
Finally, the two questions were put to Evan Downing, now an assistant to trainer Greg Foley but formerly an assistant at the Asmussen barn.
“I think she (Rachel) is probably the best horse in the race tomorrow,” Downing said, “but if there’s a day she could get beat, it would be tomorrow. I love Rachel, and I like Steve and Scott Blasi (Asmussen’s main assistant), but I’m also a big Zenyatta fan. I saw Rachel get really tested in the Woodward last year, and I saw what it did to her. I haven’t seen Zenyatta nearly as much, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like nothing that she has faced has ever bothered her.”