Rachel’s Valentina, the two-year-old filly by Bernardini and out of Rachel Alexandra, made a much-awaited career debut at Saratoga in early August, and she did not disappoint. She was clearly the class of that field, winning with a ease that suggested professionalism even this early in her career. This is not meant to be a comparison to her amazing dam and all that she accomplished on the track, and naturally it is early yet to say what type of racehorse Rachel’s Valentina will become, but I know I liked what I saw when I watched the race replay after the conclusion of my final exam in my final class needed to earn my Equine Management degree.
Though I look forward to watching this filly’s career unfold for its own merits, and not what her sire and dam achieved, it is hard not to feel the tug of that connection with Rachel Alexandra. And that is why it touched me when the race announcer incorporated one simple but sweet phrase in his race call when he mentioned “Rachel’s little girl.”
I began this journey to earn my degree for the same reason I uprooted myself from my home state and from my family, to follow a calling I heard from a very young age. I didn’t know then it was a calling. I just knew how much I liked racing; I didn’t realize that it was the beginning of it becoming a deeply-rooted part of myself. I only had to spend one week in Lexington, visiting all the farms I had read about and seeing horses I had only watched on TV, to know this was where I was meant to live: in an epicenter of just about everything Thoroughbred. And when the racing season had an occasional lull, the Horse Park could easily provide a day with horses.
My motivation for starting the degree was much the same: to immerse myself in all things horse, to be the professional at the center of it all, and much less on the sidelines. When I did begin the degree, Zenyatta was in the last few months of her race career that culminated with an attempt to repeat her historic Breeders’ Cup Classic win, and Rachel Alexandra was soon to retire. Those were the horses lighting up the racing sky at the time, to paraphrase a quote I once heard about Count Fleet (I’m pretty sure it was about him), and no one else could compare as far as I was concerned. In fact, they set the bar so high collectively that I felt a void that persisted in the racing scene long after they retired.
When I realized how difficult some of my classes were going to be, I had to find motivation anywhere I could. I never really was firmly in the Zenyatta camp over the Rachel camp, or vice versa. They both meant something to me in their own ways. So it was not favoritism, but just an example of a horse who was an inspiration when I put a photo of Zenyatta in my chemistry notebook, and wrote above it, “Do it for her and the chance to work with horses like her” – you’ve gotta dream big, right? Dreaming big is what I was doing when I moved here, and starting this degree was also a leap forward to make my dreams be realized.
Watching Rachel’s filly run, looking like she has a world of potential within her, all those feelings came back of how much I had loved following Rachel’s career, and seeing Rachel too shine at Saratoga. It’s the kind of things dreams are made of, and now that one of my biggest goals in my life – and one of the hardest I’ve ever set for myself – has been realized, I too feel like I have a world of doors opened to me, just as they hopefully are for Rachel’s filly. Where this road takes us now, who knows?
I look forward to seeing what comes next, for her, for me, and in the racing world in general.
After all, this year has already shown me even the wildest dreams can come true. You have to look no further than American Pharoah’s grand story and how his stature continues to grow after his Haskell win. It is still amazing to think that there has at last been a Triple Crown winner in my lifetime. That is something to savor, and I can’t wait to see him in person once more. I can’t wait to be more completely immersed in racing now, and find my path in that world.