Trainer Larry Jones knows Rachel Alexandra is a rare talent

Everybody’s going to be jockeying for a good spot to watch Rachel Alexandra in the Grade I Woodward

Everybody’s going to be jockeying for a good spot to watch Rachel Alexandra in the Grade I Woodward on Saturday.

What the heck, there was a swarm of at least 50 photographers snapping away on Thursday, and that was just a ho-hum schooling session in the paddock before the fifth race.

Given his choice, trainer Larry Jones would like to watch the Woodward on the TV monitor at the Saratoga Race Course test barn, because that would mean he will have just won the Grade I Forego with Kodiak Kowboy.

It beats the view he got a few other times he’s seen the superfilly race.

“I have run against her three times. Hopefully, I won’t do that again,” Jones said with a chuckle at the Clark Stakes Barn on Thursday, while Kodiak Kowboy quietly cooled his heels in his stall.

Rachel Alexandra is already being compared to Ruffian, and Jones, who saddled champion Proud Spell and Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles in 2008, was convinced how great she is well before Friesan Fire finished 10th to her in the Preakness in May.

“I made up my mind then. They had voted that I had the two best 3-year-old fillies in the country the year before, and I was pretty certain that I was watching something that I had not trained,” he said. “I thought she was better than them. This filly does things that, once she does it, you just can’t believe it’s happening.”

Proud Spell won the Alabama at Saratoga over Music Note in one of the best races of the year, and Eight Belles was good enough for Jones to put her in against the boys in the Derby. After she finished second to Big Brown, she broke down in the gallop-out and was euthanized, but still finished in second place in the Eclipse Award voting for top 3-year-old filly, behind her stablemate.

Rachel is better than both, though, Jones said, and he joined Rachelmania on the ground floor, in February, after she won a stakes race at Oaklawn Park in which Jones saddled a filly named Lake Lugano.

“I may have been one of the first ones to get swept up in it, because I was running against her in the Martha Washington in that little $50,000 at Oaklawn, and she beat me 19 1⁄2 lengths,” Jones said.

“After she won the [Kentucky] Oaks by 191⁄2, I said I should’ve run her [Lake Lugano] in the Oaks. But I told them then, she might be the best filly I’ve ever watched run.”

That was just as Rachel Alexandra was embarking on the seven-race 2009 winning streak that has brought her to the forefront of the racing world.

Jones and his wife, Cindy, have another nice filly, Just Jenda, who won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks on Aug. 15.

In February, a week before Lake Lugano tangled with Rachel, Just Jenda was third by over nine lengths to the Steve Asmussen-trained War Echo, a half-sister to Forego entrant Pyro, in the Silverbulletday at the Fair Grounds, and the Joneses didn’t want any part of War Echo again.

That is, until Lake Lugano got obliterated by Rachel Alexandra.

At that point, Larry Jones, who is close friends with Hal Wiggins, Rachel’s trainer before she was purchased by Jess Jackson and transferred to Steve Asmussen, told Wiggins to let him know where Rachel was going, so Jones and Just Jenda, who was stabled with Cindy Jones at Fair Grounds, could go in the other direction.

“I really didn’t want to run against her again,” Jones said. “We’ll take our chances on Asmussen’s horse [War Echo]. You don’t want to run against this thing. So I talked to Hal, and he said, ‘Well, they’re wanting to go to the Fair Grounds Oaks.’ I said, ‘Look, buddy, you just fill me in on where you’re going, I ain’t going to be there. If you want to go to Fair Grounds, I’ll bring my horse here; if you want to stay here [Oaklawn], I’m going to leave her there, but you just let me know where I’m running.’ ”

By avoiding Rachel Alexandra, Just Jenda was able to go to Oaklawn Park, and win the Honeybee.

Jones believed Wiggins was going to send Rachel Alexandra to the Ashland at Keeneland, but they ran into her again in the Grade II Fantasy at Oaklawn, where Just Jenda was third, 113⁄4 lengths back.

“Well, anyway, there they were, and there I sat, and I did not think my filly would like the synthetic,” Jones said. “Craziest thing I ever did in my horse’s career was run against her again in the Fantasy. She beat me 11 3⁄4 lengths with Just Jenda. Needless to say, the worst career beating that filly’s ever taken, but the closest I’ve come to beating her. Because when she hooked Friesan Fire in the Preakness, she kicked his butt by a lot more than 11 3⁄4 lengths.”

On Thursday, Rachel Alexandra was the first one in the paddock before the fifth race, and was walked to a stall to be saddled by Asmussen.

She stood like a statue the whole time, pricking up her ears and cas­ually glancing at the mob of photographers and gawkers.

Then she walked around the perimeter, with fans and their cameras packed outside the fenceline.

Then she was gone, back up the path toward Union Avenue, and so was the crowd.

“She doesn’t even look like she’s training,” Jones said. “It’s just instantly she just starts getting away in front. Damn. Yeah, I think she’s one of those rare finds that you’ve just got to enjoy watching.”

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