The crowd noise at Saratoga Race Course built as it normally did, but it sounded different that first September Saturday afternoon five years ago.
“It was higher pitched,” race caller Tom Durkin said.
Definitely female. And it stayed loud, through the race and even afterward.
The women, the girls — everyone — came out that day to see filly Rachel Alexandra, one of the great fan faves in the history of Saratoga. She was one of the few thoroughbreds to have as many tween girl fans as a boy band, but the filly’s popularity extended far beyond that unusual demo for horse racing.
In one of his most famous calls, Durkin epically captured the drama and the emotion of that 2009 Woodward Stakes.
They are coming to the top of the stretch, it is still the filly in front. A dramatic stretch drive awaits in the Woodward Stakes. On the outside here's Bullsbay, and Calvin Borel imploring his filly for more, and Rachel Alexandra holds onto the lead . . .
Fans at races, regardless the import or competitors, have a collective rhythm, a sound. A burst of cheers with the opening of the gates. A lull. A growing roar as the pack hits the stretch, building until the finish. Then a quick silence with a smattering of whoops and lamentations.
The crowd that day at Saratoga was not like that. The roar was unlike any other race. It built — and stayed built.
“You could feel the building shake,” Durkin said. He talked about sound waves, and molecules, and how the rush of air from the crowd “forced the rafters in the building to move.” It really did.
Rachel — the crowd was on a first-name basis with her — was seeking to be the first filly to take the Woodward, and cement herself as the 2009 Horse of the Year.
Bullsbay is second, Macho Again is making a tremendous run from the back of the pack, Rachel Alexandra, Macho Again, they are coming to the finish, it's gonna be desperately close, here's the wire . . .
The race track shook.
Rachel won. She is indeed Rachel . . . Alexandra the Great, beating Macho Again here, and further back is Bullsbay in third. The time was 1:48 and one. Rachel Alexandra raises the rafters here at the Spa.
There have been other legendary races at Saratoga — the 1962 duel in the Travers and the 2012 dead heat in the signature stakes race come to mind — but none sounded like that Woodward five years ago.
After the crowd’s roar settled after the race, it ratcheted up yet again as Rachel Alexandra made her way to the winner’s circle. How that crowd roared, mixed with more than a few squeals.