Staying on Top New Challenge for Rachel
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 19, 2009--Rachel Alexander, king of the three-year-olds. What else could you call her? With her now proven ability, that’s the only conclusion that can be drawn. The lady shaves.
And now a word from HRI reader Eric:
“Dear Mr. Pricci,
“Just wondering, based on your previous essay outlining the reasons why running RA in the Preakness would be a mistake, [why] you do not devote a sentence, or even a paragraph, to admit that perhaps your analysis [in a previous blog] was off base.
“If I correctly recall, many of your peers concurred with your perspective in their comments... Just hope, in the interest of editorial and journalistic honesty, you guys could tip the hat to team Jackson.”
For Eric and others wondering the same, here’s a whole bunch of paragraphs:
The blog I posted after the Preakness Saturday evening was an immediate reaction to the events of Preakness 134. In the moment, the story belonged to the filly, her Kentucky Derby-winning rider, manner of victory, etc.
And there was this, too: “Rachel Alexandra, validating the confidence of… ‘her sporting new connections’ …”
Not flowery, but hope you might all agree that there was a sombrero in there somewhere.
HRI regulars knew what we thought of the filly a few months ago. Shortening the long story, we said “Rachel Alexandra was reminiscent of Ruffian…”
In fact, a colleague questioned my exuberance and thought my use of the “R” word was premature. In addition, the HRI staff ranked her the #1 three-year-old in America 10 days in advance of the Preakness.
On Sunday morning following the Preakness, new trainer Steve Asmussen, extremely gracious in his effusive praise of Hal Wiggins, told Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman that the filly came out of the Preakness great, would gallop this morning, and have her first work since the Preakness on May 25.
Presumably, a decision on her Belmont Stakes status will be made at that time.
According to Calvin Borel, she labored over the loose surface, preferring instead to skip over the tighter ground at Churchill, Oaklawn and the like.
Indeed, she labored inside the final sixteenth of Preakness 134. But that’s what happens when wheels spin. Her action bore no resemblance to the long, fluid strides on display during the stretch run of the Oaks.
As a public handicapper by trade, I know a good horse when I see one. As a horseplayer who from time to time needed to cash a bet, I know a good one when I see one.
Rachel Alexandra is on the precipice of all-time greatness, and I use the “G word” a lot less often than the “R word.“ But at 9-5, Rachel Alexandra, despite her superiority, was a terrible bet.
As friend and colleague Cary Fotias often counsels: “Most good bets lose.”
Because Rachel Alexandra won the race doesn’t mean running in it was the right thing to do long term. Not if her victory prevents her from running in a race on June 6 whose dynamic and pace scenario better suits her high-speed galloper‘s stride.
If what Asmussen said on Sunday was accurate, then her participation in a battle of the sexes reprise at Belmont Park should be a foregone conclusion, right?
But the trainer closed the door somewhat, saying he “didn’t feel the urgency” to run her in the Belmont like he did the Preakness. But before the Preakness, he said the decision to run in the Preakness was made by Mr. Jackson. So, which is it?
Privman correctly opined in the story that Rachel Alexandra is the leading candidate for 2009 Horse of the Year. Asmussen said he liked the sound of that.
By becoming the first filly ever to win two legs of the Triple Crown, Horse of the Year 2009 would be automatic on many ballots no matter what unfolds the rest of the year. How could superior achievement in a true history-making setting be denied?
Then, an Alabama win and a Ladies Classic showdown with Zenyatta would be the cherry on this sweet confection.
Jess Jackson talks all the time about horses defining themselves on the track, “running champions against champions,” doing what’s best for the sport he loves. He proved as much with Curlin. Twice.
Having proven their point, the percentage play is to stay in the barn. Most horsemen believe they will. But to deny a healthy filly an opportunity to truly make racing history, the equine equivalent of Woody’s five Belmonts, would be an accomplishment for the ages.
A Belmont victory would define Rachel Alexander and prove that she deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation with Ruffian or Personal Ensign or Twilight Tear, without equivocation.
A Belmont victory would endow her with legendary status, ensuring that people would think about her the same way the late, great Charles Hatton once wrote about Secretariat.
After winning the final jewel in the Triple Crown 31 lengths, wrote Hatton: “Secretariat’s only frame of reference is himself.”
The HRI Triple Crown Power 10:
1-RACHEL ALEXANDRA (36): After giving every indication in the Oaks she was a special filly, went out and proved in Baltimore. Of course, her greatness and ultimate place in racing lore needs further definition. A start and a win at Belmont Park on June 6 could render that question moot forever.
2-Mine That Bird (27): His improbable Derby victory over a sloppy Louisville track raised more questions than it answered; his Preakness just the opposite. Not only did he make the same visual impression but he incrementally bettered his Derby performance on the Equiform scale. Questions answered.
3-Musket Man (24): Last week we referred to him as a “little win machine that could.” Well, he’s still never finished off the board--in eight starts--including Derby wins in Tampa and Illinois. Kentucky Derby show finisher just missed the place in Baltimore but ran hard once again. What a really nice colt.
4-Quality Road (20): The filly might have proven best of the Preakness crew and possibly be an all-time legend but her position atop the 2009 sophomore class is tenuous until she beats this colt. But he must come back at least as good from as he was this winter. The Travers looms.
5-Pioneerof The Nile (12): It took a monstrous Derby performance by Mine That Bird to deny him a place in Derby lore but his Preakness was absolutely dismal. After briefly securing good early position, he emptied out with five furlongs still left to run. Following some badly needed R&R, who knows what’s next?
6-I Want Revenge (11) [tie]: Another talented sideliner among HRI’s top six sophomores, his issues are serious enough to consider when and if he’ll ever return. We hope he does. Ordinary three-year-olds just don’t just come along and steal the Gotham and Wood Memorial.
6-Papa Clem (11) [tie]: Arkansas Derby winner bottomed out in the Preakness after gaining good early position, surprising his rider and disappointing his trainer. Connections should seriously consider coming back east for the Travers as he’s proven a better dirt than synthetic horse. In the meanwhile he should enjoy a badly needed freshening.
8-Chocolate Candy (7) [tie]: Two tough trips in two big spots, the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies: There was the slow-paced, wide trip in SoCal followed by virtually the same thing in the rail-biased roses run. Two tough results following two worthy efforts. Deserves better luck at Belmont Park.
8-Charitable Man (7) [tie]: A decision will be made this morning relative to his Belmont participation. Given a comprehensive victory in the G2 Peter Pan Stakes over the track, a useful nine-furlong predictor of Belmont success, he’s now fit, still fresh and loves the track. Now his connections need to step up.
10-Hull (4): As stated last week, tough to knock an undefeated horse. Yet to race beyond 7-½ furlongs, he will forsake the 12-furlong Belmont in favor of the G2 Woody Stephens sprint on the undercard. There could be successful distance racing in his future but his connections are wise to allow the distances to come to them, at least for now.
Written by John Pricci - Comments (0)