Stonestreet Stables owner Jess Jackson refers to them as hurdles, the challenges facing Rachel Alexandra. The 3-year-old filly has cleared every one so far, beating the boys in the Preakness Stakes and Haskell Invitational. Her next one comes today in the Woodward Stakes, where she takes on older horses for the first time in her Saratoga Springs, N.Y., debut.
"The fans need stars, the industry needs stars," Jackson said. "We felt it would be a further definition of Rachel if she could take on older horses."
Rachel-mania has hit everyone, even West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley, whose Stephen Foster winner Macho Again is one of seven challengers trying to keep the superstar from becoming the first female to win the race.
"We either make history or we're going to be part of history," said Finley, who expects 500 acquaintances of Macho Again's 17 investors to be at Saratoga. "It's just incredibly exciting for everybody. We know that Saratoga is the graveyard of favorites. So we hope we're in a spot where in 20 or 30 years, they're talking about this race in 2009."
Rachel Alexandra, the only 3-year-old in the field, has won her past eight starts, the last four at Grade I. Rivals Bullsbay, Cool Coal Man and Past the Point are coming off wins.
"It's a different pool (running) against older horses, against the boys," Finley said. "I'm not saying she can't swim in the deeper waters. We'll see what happens."
The Woodward tops a big Labor Day weekend of racing with eight Grade I races nationally. At Saratoga, the Woodward is joined by the Forego (Race 9, 5:15 p.m. today), Spinaway (Sunday) and Hopeful (Monday). The others are at Del Mar, Calif.: Darley Debutante (Race 8, 8:30 tonight), Pacific Classic and Pat O'Brien (both on Sunday), and Del Mar Futurity (Monday). Finley also has entered Awesome Gem in the Pacific Classic.
Two other races with Tampa Bay Downs connections are today's Grade III Washington Park (Race 8, 5:28 p.m.) with Judi-Hicklin trainee Let It Rock at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Monday's Grade II Pennsylvania Derby with Derek Ryan-conditioned Bunker Hill and Tampa Bay Derby runnerup Join in the Dance at Philadelphia Park. The Pacific Classic, Pat O'Brien and Washington Park are qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6-7.
GREYHOUNDS: Derby Lane has a matinee 15-race performance on Labor Day. There will be no evening card, but the St. Petersburg track will remain open for poker and simulcast wagering. ... McAllister Kennels' Flying Coal City has both season-best times after running 660 yards in 37.26 seconds Wednesday. His 550-yard clocking is 30.44 seconds.
56th Woodward Stakes
When/where: 5:52 p.m.; Race 10; Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Distance: 11/8 miles; Age: 3 and up; Weight: 121 pounds (3-year-olds) and 126 (older)
Grade: I; Purse: $750,000; TV: 11 p.m. Sun Sports (taped)
Weather: Sunny, high 80 - 2008 winner: Curlin
PP/Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Da'Tara (Ky.) Lezcano Zito 12-1
2 Bullsbay (Ky.) Rose Motion 6-1
3 Rachel Alexandra (Ky.) Borel Asmussen 1-2
4 Cool Coal Man (Ky.) Velazquez Zito 12-1
5 Macho Again (Fla.) Albarado Stewart 8-1
6 It's a Bird (Fla.) Leparoux Wolfson 10-1
7 Asiatic Boy (Argentina) Garcia McLaughlin 10-1
8 Past the Point (Ky.) Prado Harty 15-1
Only one 3-year-old filly, Summer Guest in 1972, has run the Woodward. She finished second to entrymate Key to the Mint before being disqualified and placed third.
Coupled entries: 1 - Da' Tara, 1A - Cool Coal Man