By Josh Cook
Rachel Alexandra got back on track Saturday. And in a big way.
The reigning Horse of the Year rebounded from back-to-back defeats to win the $214,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs.
Rachel cruised to a 10 1/2-length victory over Distinctive Dixie, covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute 48.78 seconds - just shy of a track record for that distance.
"She's just getting back," jockey Calvin Borel said. "You have to give her a chance. She's a filly and she did the impossible when she was a 3-year-old. I think you'll see a great future now. She did everything right today. (Trainer) Steve (Asmussen) told me just to run my race and see where we're at. She showed up today."
Rachel, who was unbeaten in 2009, bounced back after a pair of runner-up finishes to start 2010, including one on Kentucky Oaks Day.
"She showed up today," Borel said. "She felt the same. I just don't think she was ready before. Steve knows what he's doing. She showed up today. She was perfect and we couldn't ask for more."
And Borel won in unusual fashion, for him at least.
With Jessica Is Back taking the lead out of the game Borel took Rachel to the outside into the first turn.
He moved her to the lead at the three-eighths pole before Distinctive Dixie threatened briefly at the head of the stretch.
"I'm very proud for everybody involved that she won," Asmussen said. "We are all grateful that (co-owner) Mr. (Jess) Jackson and (his wife) Barbara (Banke) put a Horse of the Year back in training, and take all the advice or criticism or whatever, but she is a tremendously sound filly. She's a machine and she ran a great race today, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction for the rest of the year. It's an honor to train a horse like her. We will take her back to the barn and there will be a lot of petting her, and peppermints, and loving on her."
Rachel, a 1-9 favorite, returned $2.20. It earned her $132,60 and increased her earnings to $3,206,730.
Distinctive Dixie, ridden by Robby Albarado, paid $5.60 to place. Jessica Is Back, ridden by Garrett Gomez, finished third in the five-horse race.