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Is Rachel Alexandra the Best Filly Ever?

So how good is Rachel Alexandra?  We’ve heard everything from “best filly ever” to “overrated” and just about everything in between.  All of these assessments are fair based on a cursory look at what she’s done.  On one hand, she’s done things that 3 year old fillies have never done (win a classic, beat older males in a G1, win the Kentucky Oaks by almost 20 lengths).  On the other hand her competition has been historically weak.  The 3 year old fillies she’s beating are so far away from normal championship quality that you could measure the gap by eighth poles and quarter poles rather than lengths; and Rachel was life and death to hold on against Macho Again who wouldn’t even be Grade 1 quality in most handicap divisions and Mine That Bird who is still one of the more fluky Kentucky Derby winners in history.  On the flipside though, she had brutal trips in the Preakness and Woodward and showed incredible competitive spirit and talent to still hold on and win.  In a race like the Haskell where she didn’t encounter arduous circumstances, she produced an exceptional performance and an exceptional speed figure.

On the other hand…well there is no other hand.  That’s pretty much what you’ve got.  Rachel Alexandra is a 3 year old filly who can run a 116 Beyer Speed Figure against top competition in a fairly run race and a 108-11 BSF when she encounters difficult trip and pace scenarios.

So where does that leave us?  In my last post I talked about how I loved speed figures because they provide us with some means of comparing horses in a historical sense.  Here are Rachel Alexandra’s last several Beyers:

Woodward – 109
Haskell – 116
Mother Goose – 111
Preakness – 108
Kentucky Oaks – 108

For comparative purposes here are some other recent 3 yo filly champs and their top Beyers during their 3 yo filly season:

2008 Proud Spell – Tops of 101, 99, 99, 97
2007 Rags to Riches – Tops of 107, 104, 98, 96
2006 Wait A While -Her accomplishments came on turf.  Dirt top of 90
2005 Smuggler – Tops of 98, 94, 93, 92 in season that ended in July.
2004 Ashado – Tops of 106, 103, 103, 102
2003 Bird Town -Tops of 101, 100, 100, 100
2002 Farda Amiga -Tops of 103, 103, 100, 95

Clearly Rachel Alexandra is FAST.  Much faster than most recent 3 year old filly champs.  When she encountered difficult pace scenarios in the Preakness & Woodward she still ran faster than any recent 3 yo filly champ ran in their best effort, and under normal circumstances she was 10-15 points superior.

So how does she compare to some of the greats?  Well on the positive side, 116 is about as fast as it gets.  On the negative side, there are quite a few who have run figures in that range.  Here are a few examples:

Lakeway ran a 117 winning the Hollywood Oaks.

Surfside ran a 116 winning the Clark (alebit much later in the season)

Silverbulletday ran a 115 in the Alabama – to go along with 109-107-108 in the Black Eyed Susan, Kentucky Oaks, & Ashland.

Go For Wand:

Beldame – 117
Maskette – 105
Alabama – 111
Test – 114
Mother Goose – 104

Then there’s Xtra Heat who couldn’t do it going long, but ran sprint figures of 120, 119, 117 as a 3 yo filly.

Very Subtle ran a 121 when she won the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Sprint over Groovy as a 3 year old filly.

Miesque ran a 119 when she won the  1987 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile as a 3 yo filly.

I also seem to recall Mantistique running a 115 type number as a 3 yo filly at Hollywood but I have no record of it.  Winning Colors ran a similar number winning the Santa Anita Derby if memory serves, but I have no record of that either.  Winning Colors also ran a 115 in defeat losing to Personal Ensign in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

As far as older fillies & mares, clearly they have run faster due to maturity, but for comparative purposes the 2 fastest Breeders’ Cup Distaff’s on record belong to Princess Rooney (120) and Inside Information (119).  The great Lady’s Secret ran a 113 winning the BC Distaff but put up figures of 120 (Woodward), 119 (Ruffian), 118 (Whitney), and 116 (Maskette) in 1986.

“Great” is a term that is thrown around all too easily these days, but what’s the correct definition?  I define greatness as the intersection between extraordinary ability/talent and extraordinary accomplishments.  Many horses have one of the two, but few have both.  Rachel Alexandra displayed both in her 3 yo filly season.  Her 3 yo filly season was as accomplished as any by a 3 year old filly in recent memory.  But others are accomplished too which is where the figure comparison comes into play.

Is Rachel Alexandra substantially more talented than horses like Ruffian, Go For Wand, Silverbulletday and Winning Colors?  Definitely not.  They’re all in the same ballpark and would likely have traded wins with each other had they regularly competed against each other.  But her accomplishments as a 3 year old filly meet or exceed what any single one of them did over the course of a season.

In the final tally you have a horse who was as fast as any 3 year old filly in history and accomplished as much or more than any 3 yo filly in history.   In a single race I’m not so sure she could beat a handful of history’s top fillies, but when her ability is considered collectively with her accomplishments there’s no doubt she’s great and you’d be hard-pressed to say that any single 3 yo filly was better in a combined analysis – thereby making Rachel Alexandra the best 3 year old filly ever!


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7 Responses

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  1. Gunslinger says

    Love your analysis!  Great job,  for a great filly!!!

  2. Darrell says

    Thank you very much…I appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed the article & hope you’re enjoying the blog overall!

  3. chuck says

    Rachel is distance limited and Beyers are higher for shorter distances.
    That is why Zenyatta will rank up there with Ruffian and Personal Ensign but Rachel won’t even make the top 100.

  4. Darrell says

    Not sure I’ve ever heard a 3 year old filly who is able to win a triple crown race be called distance limited…

    You might also find this interesting:  Guess how many races Zenyatta won at 9 furlongs or more?  SEVEN.  Guess how many races Rachel Alexandra won at 9 furlongs or more?  SEVEN.

    Rachel wasn’t distance limited – it’s all a function of pace.  She simply suffered in the late stages of any race where she battled through an especially hot early pace (as any horse would).  Just as Zenyatta struggled to run down far inferior competition in races with a slow early pace. The fact that Rachel held on to win in the Preakness and Woodward given the pace scenarios is a testament to just how talented she was.


    Beyers aren’t higher for shorter distances.  They’re equivalent across all distances.  It simply requires more talent and more endurance to run higher Beyers at longer distances.  Virtually every horse can sprint, much fewer can be as good going long.

    If history judges Zenyatta ahead of Rachel it will be because of her Breeders’ Cup Classic performances and Rachel’s poor 4 year old season.  3 year old Rachel Alexandra would have been heavily favored over any year’s version of Zenyatta had they faced each other and justifiably so.  Rachel’s 3 year old season was the most impressive of any 3 year old filly in history and far more powerful than any individual season Zenyatta ever had.

  5. chuck says

    Rachel is basically a 9f horse…just because she got 9.5 does not mean she is a classic distance horse…that is why they ducked the 2009 10 furlongs Breeders Classic. Her Personal Ensign exposed her distance limitation.

  6. chuck says

    Darell you need to get a grip, BEYER IS HIGHER FOR SHORTER DISTANCES. that is why Groovy got a very high beyer 130 for his 6 furlong sprint. And Rachel is nothing more than an extended sprinter.

  7. chuck says

    And yes you are correct, Zenyatta will be judge for his Breeders 10 furlong Classic because very few FEMALES ever enter or run in an OPEN GRADE 1 at the CLASSIC DISTANCE OF 10 furlongs.
    That is why Rachel never entered one OPEN G1 @ the classic distance of 10 furlongs, she cannot compete in those kind races. She is basically an extended sprinter.