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Rachel Alexandra Schools in Paddock Saturday

Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra schooled in the Fair Grounds paddock before and during Saturday’s seventh race, maintaining an air of detached coolness while delighted fans gathered to snap photos and get an up-close look.

Rachel Alexandra, preparing for her first start of 2010 in this Saturday’s $200,000 New Orleans Ladies, arrived in the paddock about 3:15 p.m., led by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and groom Javier Espinoza. Trainer Steve Asmussen was present, as were other members of the superstar’s entourage, including her hotwalker Juan Gonzalez and her ever-present security chief, who trailed the filly around the walking ring.

Team Rachel entered the paddock with horses entered for the seventh race and occupied the last open stall (No. 14 when numbered for a full field), for about 10 minutes until the others went to the track. At that point, Rachel Alexandra was led to one of the middle stalls, where she remained through the running of the race.

The 4-year-old Medaglia d’Oro filly behaved perfectly during the schooling process, never showing a hint of anxiousness and professionally going through the motions while ignoring well-behaved crowds of fans pressed against the paddock rail, as well as horsemen, media and racing officials in the center of the walking ring.

The public was not alerted to Rachel Alexandra’s appearance until she was already in the paddock. Fair Grounds handicapper Jessica Pacheco announced the schooling as part of her regular pre-race analysis. Asmussen said Rachel Alexandra would have one more session in the paddock—most likely during Friday’s races, as there is no live racing Tuesday to Thursday—and that the public will be notified in advance about that appearance. “This was a dress rehearsal for the dress rehearsal,” Asmussen said.

Following the seventh race, Espinoza led Rachel Alexandra around the walking ring a few times before heading through the tunnel and onto the track, just as she’ll do before heading to the gate for the New Orleans Ladies.

Rachel Alexandra will have her final timed workout before the New Orleans Ladies on Monday morning. Meanwhile, she continues to gallop aggressively on a daily basis. “Her gallops have been very strong,” Asmussen said. “She’s not 100-percent fit for this and we’re aware of that. She’s had six works in six months. But she’s a very physical horse; she is Rachel.”

Before leaving the paddock, Asmussen added: “I’m very concerned about her fitness level.”

Rachel Alexandra will be the first reigning Horse of the Year to race in New Orleans since the great Hall of Fame-enshrined Triple Crown winner Whirlaway took the Fair Grounds Handicap in 1942.

Rachel Alexandra established herself as one of the all-time great fillies last year with historic wins in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and Grade I Preakness, as well as six other stakes races, including the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. Her three Grade I victories against male horses—in the Preakness, the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward—helped to set a new standard for excellence by a female racehorse in the modern era.