All Any Preakness Needs Is the Derby Winner
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 12, 2009--If there’s a disappointing element about Jess Jackson’s apparent decision to drop the name of Rachel Alexandra into the Preakness entry box today at Pimlico, it’s the reluctance of trainer Steve Asmussen to volunteer his thoughts about running the filly, instead deferring the decision entirely to the owner.
Routinely, Asmussen’s stakes horses do not race back every two or three weeks. Like other highly successful trainers of the modern thoroughbred, he uses a five or six-week program when mapping out the stakes campaigns for his best stock.
If Jackson wants to run the filly back in a fortnight, it’s only because he can. It’s wonderful to have that kind of confidence and make a sporting decision simultaneously, one that pits female against male and providing the Preakness with an all-time storyline.
But a middle jewel for Rachel Alexander is the wrong race at the wrong time, even should she win. Running in the Belmont is a smarter tack, more in line with the best interests of a filly who would take on colts with future plans of a full season’s campaign.
And what if she were to win the Preakness? The temptation to enter back in the Belmont would be huge. And that would be her third race in five weeks, two against males, with no chance of a Triple Crown sweep. What’s next? It all borders on madness.
OK, so the turf race was a possible prep for the Arc. But Jackson risked it, however small the gamble might have been. But a second consecutive Horse of the Year title was at stake by running in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on a synthetic track.
Not every horse--not even Curlin--is the equal of an Einstein.
The master of the Kendall-Jackson winery is, like most of us whose teeth get longer by the day, is closer to the end than the beginning. He has the means to do as he pleases and his family is secure. So, who can blame him for taking a shot?
But Asmussen should know better. Despite the still incredulous cliché that Pimlico is a speed track and that the mile and a half “Test of the Champion” is all about endurance, it’s really not. The Belmont is about class and speed, a galloper’s race.
Should Rachel Alexandra enter the Preakness and win, I, like all lovers of the game, will admire her success and rank it as one of the sport’s great equine achievements, certainly among it’s most memorable.
Given the circumstances and timing, I probably won’t enjoy this Preakness as much as I normally do because I just don’t believe it’s the right thing to do by the filly.
All any Preakness needs is the Derby winner. All Mine That Bird needs is to prove that his Derby was no fluke so that he could roll up on 95 North with a chance to become a racing immortal.
By pointing the filly for the Belmont, the stage would be set for something truly special, with or without Mine That Bird.
If, then, her connections reconsidered running in the Belmont, the Grade 1 Acorn would be an excellent fall-back position, a race chosen by her developer and original trainer, Hal Wiggins.
In all likelihood, the accomplished, prolific Steve Asmussen will someday be inducted into the Racing’s Hall of Fame; Wiggins likely will not.
According to Jackson, Asmussen called all the shots with Curlin. By deferring to the enthusiastic bill payer on this one, Asmussen takes himself off the hook and abdicates his position of authority as one of America’s premier horsemen.
His accomplishments might take him all the way to the racing pantheon on Union Avenue, but at this moment Steve Asmussen cannot know the filly nearly as well as Hal Wiggins.
HRI’s Triple Crown Power 10:
1-RACHEL ALEXANDRA (33)--The lady shaves, giving every indication in the Oaks that she’s worthy of her current lofty position as 2009’s top ranked three-year-old. In her four starts this season she indicated that her future indeed may be limitless. All that’s required is judicious aggressive handling.
2-Pioneerof The Nile (29)--It took a Herculean Derby performance by Mine That Bird to deny this talented runner a place in Derby history. He’s performed well at his highest levels racing in the best company for Bob Baffert, and he should continue to do so in Baltimore.
3-Mine That Bird (23)--The top spot in any poll this time of year normally is reserved for the Derby winner. But this is not a normal year. Given his improbable victory over a sloppy Louisville track, his dominating performance still has observers questioning his true ability. We don’t. Where is it written that his future might not be just as bright?
4-Quality Road (18)--Last reports from the New York Racing Association state that the colt is still walking the shedrow, the healing process for the second quarter-crack taking longer than expected. With the possibility of a Belmont run becoming more remote, the colt should regroup completely and be pointed for the Travers.
5-Musket Man (16)--He’s the little win machine that could. Never off the board in seven career starts including wins in the Tampa and Illinois Derbies, the Kentucky Derby show finisher is as honest as they come. Amazing grit, especially given the short pedigree.
6-I Want Revenge (15)--Another talented colt sidelined by injury, it’s unfortunate that his issues are more severe than originally diagnosed, requiring more time to rebound if, indeed, he does run again. A real might-have-been story. And as for the connections? They’ll always have Queens.
7-Papa Clem (14)--Generally underrated, Arkansas Derby winner certainly proved to be more of a dirt than synthetic horse. A very tough Kentucky Derby trip was the difference between fourth and second, as he missed the runnerup spot by a nose and a head.
8-Friesan Fire (12)--Totally eliminated at the break, his Kentucky Derby is a complete throw-out. He’s better than that based on his Louisiana sweep and will be better in the Preakness with the Derby and a true route test under his belt. Deserving of better luck in the Preakness.
9-Big Drama (5) [tie]--Know how horsemen always say their speed horses don’t need the lead? Well, I believe that to be the case with this colt. Another win machine, he was victorious around two turns twice and continued his development from 2 to 3. Speed, versatility and class is always a loaded gun.
9-Hull (5) [tie]--Tough to make a case against perfection. Yet to race beyond 7-½ furlongs, but his Derby Trail was first rate, improving his record to 3-for-3. Showing his usual high speed while ridden with confidence, he responded like a good horse. Connections were prudent, choosing the Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard for his next start.
Written by John Pricci - Comments (0)