Reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra shrugged off a challenge from Distinctive Dixie at the head of the stretch and cruised to a 10 ½-length victory in the 36th running of the $214,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) for fillies and mares on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Calvin Borel, who was posting his fourth victory of the afternoon, Rachel Alexandra won for the first time in three starts in 2010 after an undefeated eight-for-eight campaign in 2009. Rachel Alexandra is owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick and trained by Steve Asmussen.
Jessica Is Back, ridden by Garrett Gomez, took the lead out of the gate with Borel angling Rachel Alexandra to the outside of the leader going into the first turn. Jessica Is Back maintained a narrow advantage through fractions of :23.93 and :47.25 with Distinctive Dixie running a close third.
At the three-eighths pole, Rachel Alexandra swept past Jessica Is Back with Distinctive Dixie ranging up to her outside under Robby Albarado. At the head of the stretch, Distinctive Dixie got within a half-length of Rachel Alexandra, but that was as close as she would get.
Carrying high weight of 124 pounds on a muggy afternoon, Rachel Alexandra ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:48.78. The victory was worth $132,680 and increased Rachel Alexandra’s earnings to $3,206,730 with a record of 17-12-4-0.
Rachel Alexandra, a 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Roar mare Lotta Kim, returned $2.20 and $2.10. Distinctive Dixie, carrying 116 pounds, paid $5.60 to place and finished two lengths in front of Jessica Is Back. Completing the field in order were Multipass and Made for Magic. There was no show wagering.
The Fleur de Lis Handicap trophy was presented by Nancy Lasala, executive director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
FLEUR DE LIS HANDICAP QUOTES
CALVIN BOREL (jockey, RACHEL ALEXANDRA, winner): “She’s just getting back. You have to give her a chance. She’s a filly and she did the impossible when she was a 3-year-old. I think you’ll see a great future now. She did everything right today. (Trainer) Steve (Asmussen) told me just to run my race and see where were at. She showed up today. She felt the same. I just don’t think she was ready before. Steve knows what he’s doing. She showed up today. She was perfect and we couldn’t ask for more.”
STEVE ASMUSSEN (trainer, RACHEL ALEXANDRA, winner): “I’m very proud for everybody involved that she won. We are all grateful that (co-owner) Mr. (Jess) Jackson and (Jackson’s wife) Barbara (Banke) put a Horse of the Year back in training and take all the advice or criticism or whatever, but she is a tremendously sound filly. She’s a machine and she ran a great race today, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction for the rest of the year. It’s an honor to train a horse like her. We will take her back to the barn and there will be a lot of petting her, and peppermints, and loving on her.”