Rachel Alexandra can handle older men, too.

The sensational 3-year-old filly became the first female to win the prestigious Woodward Stakes on Saturday, holding off Macho Again by a head and leaving six others in her wake.

She beat 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds in an electrifying race before a cheering crowd of 31,171 at Saratoga Race Course for her ninth consecutive victory, all but clinching Horse of the Year honors.

"She was ready," said co-owner Jess Jackson, who called the ride "perfect." "Those were a lot of big animals she was running against, but she showed her spirit. She showed her class. She didn't give up. That's my Rachel."

Rachel Alexandra dueled early with 2008 Belmont Stakes winner Da'Tara before taking the lead along the backstretch. She set a blistering early pace while being pushed throughout _ 22.85 at the first quarter; 45.41 at the half mile _ and covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.29.

On the turn for home, it looked for a brief moment as if the filly would be caught, but regular rider Calvin Borel wasn't bashful about using the whip, first left-handed, then right-handed, to keep her in the lead.

As they crossed the finish line, Borel raised his hand in a No. 1 salute and pointed to racing's biggest star.

"The last 40 yards I was a little worried, but she just kept digging in," he said. "She stepped up and proved to be the best."

Robby Albarado, who rode the 4-year-old runner-up, knew his horse wasn't going to win.

"I never thought I had her," he said. "The only thing I was hoping for was that she'd tire. Champions show different dimensions. She's in a league of her own. Older horses, her own age, it doesn't matter. No matter what they throw at her, she'll beat them."

Rachel Alexandra beat 3-year-olds boys in the Preakness and the Haskell Invitational, and overwhelmed 3-year-old fillies in the Kentucky Oaks (20 1/4 lengths) and the Mother Goose Stakes (19 1/4 lengths) at Belmont.

Only one other 3-year-old filly has run in the Woodward _ Summer Guest in 1972. She finished second to Key to the Mint before being disqualified and placed third.

The 3-10 favorite, Rachel Alexandra paid $2.60, $2.40 and $2.10. Macho Again paid $3.80 and $2.80. Bullsbay, winner of the Whitney Handicap last month, paid $4 to show.

Asiatic Boy was fourth, followed by It's a Bird, Past the Point, Cool Coal Man and Da' Tara, who did not finish.

She earned $450,000 for Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick, her owners, increasing her career total to more than $2.9 million. Jackson and longtime friend McCormick bought the horse after she won the Oaks and decided to enter her in the Preakness two weeks later.

"She's been tremendously consistent," said Rachel's trainer, Steve Asmussen. "She gives us a tremendous amount of confidence every day. I can't say enough about the race she put in today under the circumstances. It means so much to me and everyone involved with her. She came through today like a true champion. She's always raising her game. What a tremendous victory. She' a spectacular athlete."

Earlier, Pyro outfinished favorite Kodiak Kowboy to win the $300,000 Forego Stakes by a half length.