Jess Jackson wasn't sure how much Rachel Alexandra's stirring victory against the boys in the Preakness took out of her, so he wound up keeping the superstar filly out of the Belmont Stakes.
Three weeks later, Jackson will finally see whether the 3-year-old that captured America's imagination has recovered from the pounding surface of Pimlico.
Rachel Alexandra will face a short field in Saturday's $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies around one sweeping turn at Belmont Park.
"She gave a brilliant race the last time, but the turf was giving away at the Preakness and we thought she needed a good rest," Jackson said earlier this week. "The Mother Goose was always a prospect, and it's a nice place to have her return to New York."
The last time she ran against her own gender, Rachel Alexandra romped to a 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks. Her sheer dominance has scared off most of her rivals, leaving only Florida Oaks winner Don't Forget Gil, Hopeful Image, Flashing and Malibu Prayer to test her.
While the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was made the early 1-5 favorite, the field isn't without credentials. Flashing, the winner of the Grade 3 Nassau County, belongs to the highly talented Godolphin Stable and has her own three-race win streak, while Todd Pletcher-trained Malibu Prayer has won two straight by a combined 20 1/4 lengths.
"The main focus is to get a good race in her," jockey Calvin Borel said, calling Rachel Alexandra "the best horse I've ever been on in my life."
Borel said her final work Monday at Churchill Downs went flawlessly. Rachel Alexandra went four furlongs in 49.80 seconds over a fast main track under exercise rider Dominic Terry, then galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.40.
"Her work was unbelievable, she's doing so good," Borel said. "She's very versatile. I'm just going to go ride my filly with the confidence I have in her."
Rachel Alexandra, who's riding a six-race winning streak dating to last year, shipped to Belmont on Wednesday and spent Thursday schooling in the paddock with groom Javier Espinoza and assistant trainer Scott Blasi.
She's never raced over the deep, sandy surface at Belmont, but Jackson and Borel said they don't expect the strapping filly to have problems with it.
"Belmont is a great track, one of the best tracks in North America, right there with Santa Anita in its former days," said Jackson, whose two-time Horse of the Year Curlin won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont last September.
"Belmont, properly prepared for the race, will not bother her at all. Nice wide turn, nice long stretch _ that type of track is made for her."
Borel doesn't typically ride at Belmont, but he said that even if his inexperience on Long Island was a factor, Rachel Alexandra's pure ability would more than compensate.
"It's just a sandy track. It won't hurt Rachel," he said. "I think Rachel would run on broken glass because that's the kind of horse she is."
Glass, perhaps, but not the new synthetic surfaces at many tracks.
Jackson revealed this week that Rachel Alexandra almost certainly won't run in the Breeders' Cup, horse racing's world championships, on Nov. 6-7 because he's not fond of the Pro-ride synthetic track at Santa Anita.
That means if Rachel Alexandra comes out of the Mother Goose healthy, she could be pointed toward the Delaware Handicap on July 19, the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 and the Travers on Aug. 29 _ all races against the boys. She also could run against fillies again in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 25 at Belmont.
"I can't predict her health all the way through the year, but if she stays healthy we'll try to pick a spot where we'll compete against the boys," Jackson said. "And if she's really healthy, we'll even consider a 4-year-old campaign."