August 12, 2016.
Mark the date on your calendars, because it will be the day that two of the greatest race mares in the history of the sport will be inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
Zenyatta, who captured the hearts of race fans worldwide with her captivating pre-race dancing and electrifying late runs, will be one of the inductees. The daughter of Street Cry was able to stay undefeated for 19 races before she fell just short in her career finale, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The other inductee, Rachel Alexandra, was the complete opposite in terms of running style. Her brilliant early speed decimated her opponents and she literally ran right into the history books. She defeated Grade I males on three occasions, including older males in the Woodward Stakes (GI), an unprecedented feat in this day and age.
Now, seven years later, at the very track where Rachel’s most historic victory took place, the brilliant Songbird will try to keep her undefeated record intact when racing in the Alabama Stakes (GI).
What is unbelievable is the uncanny resemblance between Songbird and Rachel Alexandra.
Both are impressive-looking bay fillies, feminine in appearance, with long, sleek legs. Both also share similar markings, especially the interrupted stripe that adorns each of their beautiful heads. Even more interesting is that they share the same sire, Medaglia D’Oro, with their dam going back to champion Forty Niner in the third generation, as the sire of their damsires.
The resemblance between the two fillies transcends the physical, but also can be seen in each of the champions’ running styles. Both fillies display brilliant speed that not a single one of their peers could match. Running with them was pure suicide… and letting them alone on the lead guarantees them the victory.
However, for all of their similarities, the two fillies have one very big difference: how they are/were campaigned.
Rachel Alexandra, after being bought by the late Jess Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Stables at the time, was sent along a very ambitious road. Under his ownership, she captured the Preakness Stakes (GI), the Haskell Invitational (GI) and the aforementioned Woodward Stakes (GI). All were against males with the Woodward being against older males.
Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 season will go down in history as one of the greatest single seasons by a three-year-old filly — if not the greatest. It is the reason that she is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
However, many wonder if it isn’t also the reason that she was never able to return to form in her abbreviated season the following year.
There are some that hold the belief that, had Rachel Alexandra remained under the ownership Dolphus Morrison, she would have had a much more conservative campaign that would have led to a continuance of her legacy. Under the ownership of Jess Jackson, many believe that the lemon may been squeezed dry in her final start of 2009, accounting for her inability to recapture her three-year-old from.
For many, it was a case of “what could have been” and frustration at the knowledge that we will never know.
Now, in 2016, a filly bearing so much of a resemblance to Rachel Alexandra in looks and running style may just give us the answer to the question of what could have been.
Songbird’s major difference with Rachel Alexandra is how she has been campaigned by owner Rick Porter. She could have face the boys as early as the Kentucky Derby, but Porter didn’t want to rush his filly and has remained steadfast in his statements that Songbird will not run against males in 2016. However, Porter has left the door open to possible meetings with males in 2017, when Songbird will turn four and, likely, be more physically mature.
There are many “ifs” to this possible future, but it is hard not to envision these events taking place: Songbird continuing her dominance in her remaining races of 2016, earning her second championship title, before returning for an even bigger and better 2017.
Will Songbird be the answer to the what-could-have-been scenarios that so many Rachel Alexandra fans found themselves mulling over after 2010?
Only time will tell.