SARATOGA SPRINGS - Rachel Alexandra is back at the Spa, and this time she'll be sticking around. Majority owner Jess Jackson announced Friday that the 2009 Horse of the Year will run at Saratoga Aug. 29 in the Grade I, 1¼-mile Personal Ensign Stakes for fillies and mares.
"The timing is right for Rachel," Jackson said. "She's been coming back into her stride, and this will help her prepare for the rest of her campaign."
The news thrilled the New York Racing Association, especially after the events of last week, when the 4-year-old filly was shipped from here down to Monmouth Park, where she beat a weak field Saturday in the Lady's Secret Stakes.
"We're delighted," NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said. "Rachel Alexandra's historic victory in the Woodward last year was one of the highlights of the Saratoga meet, and we expect her appearance at the Spa this year to be just as compelling."
Rachel's gut-wrenching Woodward triumph over older males was the finale of her 8-for-8 year. It also was the last time she faced strong opposition. She's 2-for-4 this season as trainer Steve Asmussen manages her carefully, with the aim to peak for the Breeders' Cup. She is likely to face a strong challenge in the Personal Ensign from Life at Ten. The 5-year-old mare has won six races in a row, including the Grade I Delaware Handicap, for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Although the NYRA has tried to lure undefeated Zenyatta to the Personal Ensign, don't expect the 17-for-17 mare to show up. The dream "Girl Power" matchup, which has been discussed since last summer, won't happen next month, if ever. The Albany Times-Union's website reported that Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, said he had "no interest" in the Personal Ensign and that there was "nothing" the NYRA could do to change his mind.
No stars in Jim Dandy
Saratoga has staged the Jim Dandy Stakes since 1964, and it often has launched a major 3-year-old's summer/fall campaign. Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Conquistador Cielo, Louis Quatorze, Bernardini and Street Sense each won at least one spring classic before taking the Jim Dandy. That won't be possible this year.
Saturday's running of the Grade II, 11/8-mile prep for the Travers Stakes doesn't even have a Grade I winner in its field of nine. Its most accomplished runner is the 3-1 morning-line favorite, Fly Down, who finished second to Drosselmeyer in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Nick Zito thinks Fly Down is ready for his return after a half-mile workout in 47.30 seconds Monday at Saratoga. "We know his fitness level," Zito said, "and we're hoping he's a little sharp for the race."
Unfortunately for the NYRA, three horses stabled here (Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Zito's pair of Ice Box and Our Dark Knight) will race Sunday at Monmouth Park. So will Uptowncharlybrown, who's based at Belmont Park. The Haskell's $1-million purse and greater prestige were bigger incentives than getting in a race over the track for the Travers. MSG Plus will televise the Jim Dandy and the $500,000 Diana Handicap, a Grade I turf race for fillies and mares, live from 5-6 p.m. The 6-year-old Forever Together will try to be the first to win the Diana in three consecutive years.