The Fabulousness of Rachel Alexandra

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 18 2009 4:06 PM

The Fabulousness of Rachel Alexandra

Surely it’s auspicious that the weekend after Double X launched, a filly won the second leg of the Triple Crown-the Preakness Stakes-for the first time since 1924. That’s right: a girl by the name of Rachel Alexandra-a girl’s name if there ever was one-held off all the boys, including Derby winner Mine That Bird, in a stunningly dramatic race. She did so against great odds: Breaking from a bad position (she was 13 in a field of 13) she scrambled to the front of the pack and led from pole to pole-meaning at every point of measurement she was in front. When Mine That Bird made a hard run at her in the stretch (he does have heart, it turns out) she steadily held him off, flicking her ears back at him and at the crowds. Her jockey, Calvin Borel-who rode Mine That Bird in the Derby-said she was the best horse he’d ever been on (see for yourself in the clip below). Take that, gender essentialists.

In her front-running style, Rachel Alexandra reminds me of another great filly, Ruffian, who never let another horse get in front of her, and who became a symbol of 1970s feminism.(I wrote about Ruffian and another Triple Crown-winning filly, Rags to Riches , for Slate .) Ruffian had to be put down after she took a bad step in her first race against a colt, a famous match race with Derby champion Foolish Pleasure. Afterward, Moody Jolley, father of Foolish Pleasure’s trainer, declared, "First time they throw some speed at that bitch, she comes unbuckled." Never mind that she’d been pulling ahead when she broke down. Ruffian must be nickering in her grave; no one can say that about Rachel Alexandra. On Saturday, the girls got their own at last.

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Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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