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The celebration in the winner's circle after the 2009 Woodward with jockey Calvin Borel and owner Jess Jackson holding up trophies and trainer Steve Asmussen on the right with his wife and kids.
The feature race of Saratoga's closing weekend is the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1), with the Saturday afternoon crowd of 31,171 enjoying sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70's. Traditionally this 1 1/8 mile main track feature is a prep for the Jockey Club Gold Cup and ultimately the Breeders' Cup Classic, featuring the best older horses on the east coast. This year, the eyes of the racing world were on Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra, making her first start against older competition of either sex, and looking to be the first filly to win the Woodward. As expected, she was bet down to 3-10 favoritism in the field of 8, coming off an 8-race winning streak including the Haskell Invitational last time out. In to challenge her included 8-1 second choice Macho Again, second in the Whitney Handicap after winning the Stephen Foster, and 11-1 third choice Asiatic Boy, second in both the Stephen Foster and the Suburban Handicap.
Rachel Alexandra breaks from the gate for the Woodward beside Bullsbay and Da'Tara.
Jockey Jose Lezcano hustled 15-1 Da'Tara to the front to set the early pace, getting the initial quarter in a quick 22.85, but he was soon joined by Rachel Alexandra and regular rider Calvin Borel who took over the lead entering the backstretch. With Da' Tara a length behind, Rachel Alexandra rattled off fast fractions of 45.41 and 1:10.54 down the backstretch and into the far turn. Da 'Tara tired badly on the turn and was eased, as Rachel Alexandra drew away, opening up a 1 1/2 length lead in mid-stretch through 1 mile in 1:35.48. 14-1 Bullsbay moved up to challenge but was turned away, and then Macho Again, last early, closed strongly for his bid for the win. However, in the final 1/16, Rachel Alexandra fought him off to get the hard-fought victory by a head in 1:48.29 over the fast surface. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Bullsbay third.
Also on the card was the Forego Stakes (G1) won by Pyro.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Rachel Alexandra Borel 2.60 2.40 2.10 4 Macho Again Albarado 3.80 2.80 2 Bullsbay Rose 4.00 Winning Time: 1:48.29 $2 Exacta 3-4 12.20 $2 Trifecta 3-4-2 36.80
Left: Owner Jess Jackson leads Rachel Alexandra and a celebrating Calvin Borel to the winner's circle. Jackson said, "Wow...The ride was perfect. She was ready. Those are a lot of big animals that she was running against, but she showed her speed, she showed her class and she didn't give up. That's my Rachel. [Her next start] depends on how she comes out of the race. I hope she's sound, then it would be a question of whether there's something adequate for her. Somebody else will decide (Horse of the Year, but I hope so. I think she's something for the ages and she's certainly proven her mettle."
Right: Rachel Alexandra gets unsaddled in the winner's circle.
Left: Rachel Alexandra enters the paddock before the race with assistant trainer Scott Blasi.
Right: Trainer Steve Asmussen prepares Rachel Alexandra for the Woodward in the paddock. Asmussen said, "I can't say enough about the race she put in today under the circumstances. It means so much to me and everyone involved with her. For Jess and Barbara to allow us the opportunity to run her in these races, I can't say enough. She came through today like a true champion. Honestly, I thought she was going to let Da' Tara and Past the Point go. But it didn't work out that way. At 22 and change, I started worrying. I worried until they put her number up. I can't say how proud of her I am. Her performance, under the pressure that she always is, stepping up and raising her game. What a tremendous victory today. She didn't lope along on the lead or anything today. She's a spectacular athlete."
Left: Rachel Alexandra checks out the fans as she heads on to the track before the race. Her jockey Calvin Borel said, "It was a great race. She stepped up and proved to be the best. If she won it would have been good. If she had lost, it still would have been good. She's a 3-year-old that went up against older horses, who knows how good she is? She was a little aggressive early, but I was comfortable. Five weeks (rest) she was real fresh. I was comfortable, the last 40 yards I was a little worried, but she just kept digging in. She would never let (Macho Again) go by her. Every time he went up to her, she would dig in again. Even galloping out, I said to Robby (Albarado), 'You ain't going by us.' She's unbelievable." Asked about being unseated in the post parade, Borel added, "She was pretty keyed up. She went to duck away. The pony guy did a good job of turning her loose. When the fans hollered real loud, it just scared her. I can't blame her. When a crowd hollers all at one time, it kind of surprised her. It took me by surprise."
Right: Assistant trainer Scott Blasi hoses Rachel Alexandra off before she heads back to the barn.
Second place finisher Macho Again returns after the race. His trainer Dallas Stewart said, "I knew it was going to be a great race. I knew he was ready. I'm never happy to be second, but it turns out like that and as they say in New Orleans, 'It be's like that.' A couple more jumps, we might have got her. But she's great. That's horse racing. She's 8 for 8."
His jockey Robby Albarado said, " The pace was great. I can't keep Macho any closer than he is because it would compromise his chances. I was far back. I didn't realize they were rocking and rolling up front but I knew there were going fast. I was hoping someone would soften her up but obviously they didn't. I wasn't surprised she was on the lead. She's naturally quick. Champions show different dimension. She is in a league of her own. She has beaten every top division we have in racing. Older horses, her age, it doesn't matter. No matter what they throw at her, she'll beat them."
Third place finisher Bullsbay heads out on the track with trainer Graham Motion on the right. Motion said, "I thought he ran huge and the winner was extraordinary. My horse hooked her at the 1/4 pole and gave her a race, but maybe that took a bit out of her. This is what it's all about."
His jockey Jeremy Rose said, "My horse left everything on the track. He did everything he could to get by that filly. She just isn't giving up. She's awesome; there's no two ways about it. The fractions were fast and I thought I was in a perfect spot to catch her. At the 1/2 pole, I split Edgar Prado (on Past the Point) and her and I got within a neck of her and she just rebroke. She's just too good of a horse. I thought I had a shot at the top of the stretch. I always think I have a shot on this horse. He always tries and shows up. Just today, she's just a better horse."
It was a cavalry charge down the stretch in the Forego
22-1 Multitude and 18-1 Riley Tucker dueled for the lead down the backstretch through fractions of 22.48 and 45.24 over the fast main track, with 28-1 True Quality stalking them in third. Multitude tired on the turn allowing Riley Tucker to inherit the lead into the stretch. However, the fast pace set the race up for the closers. Riley Tucker led to mid-stretch through 3/4 in 1:09.02 but Pyro, who was outrun the length of the backstretch, came out to pass a wall of horses into the lane. Kodiak Kowboy, 9th early, put in a strong rally of his own but Pyro held him off in the final strides to win by 1/2 a length in 1:21.48. It was another 1/2 length back to 13-1 Ready's Echo who closed from last.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 1 Pyro Velazquez 10.20 4.60 3.60 2 Kodiak Kowboy Saez 3.20 2.50 3 Ready's Echo Borel 5.30 Winning Time: 1:21.48 $2 Exacta 1-2 25.40 $2 Trifecta 1-2-3 141.00 $2 Superfecta 1-2-3-10 648.00
Left: Pyro in the winner's circle. Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor said, "We weren't really worried when he broke a little slow, he has a history of doing that. I didn't know if the 1/2 mile was fast enough, but they thinned out and Johnny gave him a perfect trip. To beat a horse like Kodiak Kowboy, you've got to pull a perfect trip. It's been one of those magical meets, everything's gone right and we really appreciate it because of the Belmont meet we had. I could tell he had horse left at the quarter pole, but he pulled a really good trip which isn't easy to do in a big field like this." Asked what his next start would be, Mettee added, "The Breeders' Cup being on synthetic changes the game completely. I wouldn't completely rule it out, but I'm not sure."
Right: Pyro in the post parade. His jockey John Velazquez said, "It was awesome. I had ridden him the time before, so I knew him a little bit, how to handle him. I was biding my time with him, just waiting for a seam to open, and when it did he was there for me. It was very nice. I saw the horse on the outside, and I heard someone coming on the inside, and it wound up being Todd Pletcher's horse (Ready's Echo). It worked out very well."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Kodiak Kowboy returns after the race. His trainer Larry Jones said, "It's a little disappointing, but he's running very well. He's very consistent. We knew there were a lot of horses in here who, if they ran their "A" race, were going to be tough to beat. This wasn't an easy spot, but Grade 1's never are. We didn't think we'd be that far back, especially given the fractions, but Pyro was farther back than we were, so maybe that's where we needed to be." His jockey Gabriel Saez added, "I was there (not blocked behind horses). I was too far away on the back side. Yeah, he was kicking in OK, you know? But I wanted to win."
Right: Third place finisher Ready's Echo heads out for the post parade. His trainer Todd Pletcher said, "We were pleased with his effort and performance. He made up a lot of ground and tried to get there in the end." His jockey Calvin Borel added, "He ran a big race today. Todd told me to sit on the fence and make one run with him. I was lucky we got through but maybe with a little more luck he might have gotten there. The other horses got a jump on him on the turn. He ran big though. No excuses. We just got outrun late."
Left: Mother Russia in the winner's circle with her trainer Linda Rice.
Right: Mother Russia in the paddock before the race. Mother Russia is a daughter of Mayakovsky out of the Hennessy mare Still Secret. With this win she improved her record to 6 wins, 1 second, and 1 third in 9 starts with total earnings of $419,418 for owner Obviously NY Stable. All of her starts except her debut have been in stakes company.
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