SARATOGA SPRINGS - Jess Jackson sat in the directors' room at Churchill Downs, sipping Champagne. His prized filly, Rachel Alexandra, had just won for the first time in three tries as a 4-year-old, coasting by 10 1/2 lengths under Calvin Borel in the Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap. Dominating an overmatched field provided more relief than elation, but on June 12 she had finally flashed the form that made her the 2009 Horse of the Year.
Jackson spoke of letting Rachel Alexandra progress gradually so she could peak for the Breeders' Cup in early November. When asked when she might run again, the 80-year-old wine baron smiled and said, "We'll wait and let the lady tell us."
Impressive workouts at Saratoga convinced trainer Steve Asmussen that Rachel Alexandra is ready to roll again, and she'll be heavily favored Saturday against six rivals in the $400,000 Lady's Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park. She shipped to the Jersey Shore on Tuesday, the day after working 4 furlongs in 49.60 seconds on Saratoga's training track.
"She's had three moves here, and things have gone as smoothly as we were hoping for," Asmussen said. "She looked great on the track [Monday], just appeared to be nice, loose and happy. I think she's doing really well now, and we're hoping it culminates at the end of the year."
Rank has its privileges, and Monmouth set up the Lady's Secret to bring in the charismatic drawing card. Not only did the track agree to Jackson's requests that the race be run a week earlier and at 1 1/8 miles instead of 1 1/16, but it also raised the purse by $250,000.
Like last time, none of Rachel's opponents is remotely in her class, but second is worth $80,000, which is a serious payday. Patrick Biancone trains Queen Martha, a former European making her dirt debut.
"I think we are running for second," Biancone said. "But second would be good."