RACHEL SKIPS TRAVERS FOR WOODWARD
The decision by owner Jess Jackson to run Preakness and Haskell Invitational winner Rachel Alexandra against older males in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward here Sept. 5 was greeted with mixed emotions by the connections of the other horses planning to run in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes.
Tim Ice, trainer of Belmont Stakes winner and Haskell runner-up Summer Bird, was somewhat looking forward to a rematch with Rachel Alexandra at the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Travers.
"Do I have a better chance with her out of it? Yeah," Ice said. "Would I like a rematch going a mile and a quarter? I would."
Chip Woolley, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, would have liked the speed that Rachel Alexandra would have brought to the race. However, he'd just as soon not have her in the starting gate.
"You want to keep yourself in the best of company and your horse in the worst of company," Woolley said. "So her not being in there is not a bad thing. Her being in there would have set up the pace, but there's a couple of other horses that are in there that will step up and make an honest pace."
Mine That Bird galloped two miles Monday morning following an endscopic examination that showed his throat is clear six days after undergoing surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis. Mine That Bird was scheduled to work Tuesday.
Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Florida Derby winner Quality Road, said Saturday is not the best time for his colt to tackle Rachel Alexandra.
"She's had a good, consistent set of races, and we have not," Pletcher said. "In a perfect world, if we were going to catch her it would be when we were coming off a good series of races as well."
Quality Road, who set a track record winning the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes here Aug. 3 - his first start since winning the Florida Derby on March 28 - will likely inherit the favorite's role in Saturday's Travers, which is expected to have a field of eight when post positions are drawn Wednesday morning.
Quality Road completed preparations for the Travers by working five furlongs in 59.69 seconds Monday morning in company with the 6-year-old mare Unbridled Belle, who is pointing to the Personal Ensign.
"We needed this work to set ourselves up, and I thought he handled it well," Pletcher said. "We got him in as good a position as we could be in with one race under our belt."
Joining the above trio will be Jim Dandy one-two-three finishers Kensei, Warrior's Reward, and Charitable Man as well as Barbaro Stakes winner Our Edge and Hold Me Back.
The opportunity for Kensei perhaps to join the picture for 3-year-old championship was among the reasons Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen gave for running Kensei in the Travers as opposed to Rachel Alexandra. Kensei has already won the Dwyer and Jim Dandy, both Grade 2 events.
"She's not going to be champion 3-year-old colt," Asmussen said, referring to Rachel Alexandra. "There's a lot on the line for Kensei with him doing this well. I think he earned or deserves a chance in the Travers."
The decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward and Kensei in the Travers was announced Monday morning after both horses put in workouts over a sealed, muddy racetrack. Kensei went first, going a half-mile in 50 seconds, virtually in the dark.
Rachel Alexandra came out at 6:10 a.m. and blitzed through a six-furlong move in 1:11.84, a move in which she went her first quarter in 24.39 seconds and her last quarter in 23.98.
"I was talking to Barbara about it," Asmussen said, referring to Jackson's wife Barbara Banke. "You watch a lot of horses go and then you watch her go and it just simply looks better."
After it was announced that Rachel Alexandra would go in the Woodward, the New York Racing Association announced the purse would be raised from $500,000 to $750,000.
"Raising the Woodward purse will help attract a top field to what will be a historic race," NYRA vice president and director of racing P.J. Campo said. "In addition, we felt that to have a filly like Rachel Alexandra seeking to become the first ever female to win the Woodward warranted an increase in purse."
NYRA, in conjunction with Betfair/TVG, also has upped the purse of the Oct. 3 Beldame to $1 million, provided Rachel Alexandra and the undefeated Zenyatta both run.
Among those Rachel will meet in the Woodward are Whitney one-two finishers Bullsbay and Macho Again - the latter's status was confirmed by West Point Thoroughbred president Terry Finley Monday afternoon - and Cool Coal Man, Da' Tara, and It's a Bird.
by David Grening
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