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Is Rachel’s Historic Horse Race a Feminist Triumph?

Over the weekend, Rachel Alexandra made history, sealing her status as the nation’s top female racehorse of all time by winning the prestigious Woodward Stakes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The 3-year-old filly has swept the nation’s premier racetracks. In May, she became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in 85 years and, as of Saturday, she has won nine consecutive races.

The success of this filly has incited a playfully girly publicity rally. There is much talk of Rachel’s beauty; like her biblical namesake, she is considered exceptionally attractive — and even posed for Vogue magazine. Throughout the Upstate New York community of Saratoga Springs, signs featuring her image decorated storefronts and lampposts, and banners promoting the race read: “Run Like a Girl.”

On race day, a crowd of more than 31,000 people, many wearing pink “Rachel” buttons and hats, turned out to watch her much-anticipated performance. Despite predictions that she would trounce competition, her victory was not quite as seamless as expected. During a pre-race parade, Rachel bucked jockey Calvin Borel off her back, eliciting a collective gasp from the energized, anxious audience, and she won the race only by a head. Who came in second, almost causing a colossal upset? A horse named “Macho Again.”

A Washington Post article spun her victory as a feminist triumph, announcing, “Rachel Alexandra Crashes Through the Glass Ceiling.” While Rachel has gone where no filly has gone before, this kind of response raises interesting questions about whether a female animal’s success in a male-dominated event is comparable to a woman’s accomplishments in the workplace. Regardless of whether this comparison holds up or what it might mean, there was something undeniably exhilarating about an entire sporting community cheering for Rachel Alexandra, in large part, because she is a “girl.”

Watch Rachel Alexandra’s historic victory:

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