Friday, May 29, 2009

OUT ON ANOTHER LIMB: RACHEL ALEXANDRA SHOULD SKIP THE BELMONT

Exactly what does Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra have to prove by winning the Belmont Stakes?

We say absolutely nothing.

Two weeks ago, she became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness off a stunning 20.25 length victory in the filly version of the Kentucky Derby – the Kentucky Oaks.

How would winning another jewel of the Triple Crown over the archaic, and now little used, distance of 12 furlongs (1.5 miles), add to her value? Simply put, it wouldn’t.

Her appearance in the Belmont could be good for the game if she wins or loses gamely. It would be a disaster if anything goes wrong.

If you own her, you have to ask yourself: Will winning the Belmont enhance her value or the value of her offspring? Winning the race couldn’t possibly enhance her value since she is already worth more than $10 million and she is owned by a multi-multi-millionaire in wine baron Jess “Kendall Jackson” Jackson.

Winning a “classic” race at 1 ½ miles against the boys could make her future offspring more valuable as it would add an important “stamina” influence to a pedigree now overly influenced by “speed” horses and speed races. But the general public and most horse racing fans don’t care about such nuances, nor should they.

More importantly, let’s look back at the last time a filly won the Belmont – it was the 2007 dramatic stretch duel where Kentucky Oaks winner Rags To Riches (outside) narrowly defeated Preakness winner Curlin. After that race Curlin ran poorly in the $1 million Haskell Gr. 1 at Monmouth in July and so-so in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup in September.

The filly Rags To Riches ran second in the $250,000 Gazelle Handicap Gr. 1 beaten one-half length by a relative unknown named Learl’s Princess in her first post-Belmont start some two months later in September.

Curlin would rally back to win the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic Gr. 1 in October, but Rags to Riches would never race again.

It could be a coincidence that both horses lost their form following that exhilarating (for us, but, no doubt, taxing for them) Belmont stretch drive which came in the last quarter mile of a 1 ½ mile race. Or it could clearly send the message that three major races in five weeks is taxing the point of requiring some substantial r&r.

Look, it ain’t 1845. Thoroughbreds don’t run in multiple heats, nor are they any longer physically capable of doing what Conquistador Cielo did back in 1982 when he won the prestigious Metropolitan Mile on Memorial Day and then won the Belmont Stakes just twelve days later.

Due to inbreeding to the same sire lines for the past fifty years, modern Thoroughbreds just aren’t as durable as they were as little as 25 years ago. It is what it is.

So Rachel’s owner Jess Jackson (who also owned Curlin) has a dilemma. Which way is he leaning?

We’d say he’s leaning in the right direction as he hinted strongly this week that Rachel Alexandra will skip the Belmont. "It's not necessary that she go in the Belmont,'' Jackson said. "She's got a whole season ahead. She's been running the whole year, so we have to monitor her very carefully.''

Meanwhile, Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley waits. “I’m gonna give Calvin (Borel) as much time as possible to ride 'Mine' and also to keep him from losing two mounts. It just wouldn’t fair to him if they don’t make a decision until the last minute and decide not to go. He won me the Kentucky Derby and I owe him the opportunity if it’s possible. I don’t want to see him sitting on the sidelines when I get to Belmont.”

As for Rachel Alexandra running in the Belmont, Woolley said it doesn’t matter to him one way or other except for how if affects his rider situation.

That's a good story, stick to it.

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