Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AN UNCONVENTIONAL TRIPLE CROWN, BUT A TRIPLE CROWN JUST THE SAME

Try as he did, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird came up just a few jumps short and thus eliminated a potential Triple Crown at this year’s Belmont. It has to be tough for the folks at NYRA to promote the race without the possibility of the rarely accomplished feat.

At the moment, the Rachel Alexandra connections are going to see what signals she gives them following her race in Baltimore. Based on what trainer Steve Asmussen has said if she’s doing well, they may run her, but, again, they may not.

“We’re not going to tell her how she’s feeling. She’ll tell us how she’s feeling,” Asmussen said.

It doesn’t seem like there is a great deal of upside for Rachel and her connections. She’s won the Kentucky Oaks and the Preakness – in terms of her value, what difference will it really make if she wins the Belmont? The Belmont is obviously a classic, but its little used distance of 12 furlongs makes it a bit of an anomaly. Would winning at the 1 ½ mile distance enhance the value of the filly or her future offspring?

Of course, she could be the first filly to pick up two legs of the Triple Crown and that may tempt her owners.

Now there are folks out there who want to say that there would be a Triple Crown if Rachel Alexandra had run in the Kentucky Derby. That seems a bit presumptuous and it minimizes Mine That Bird’s victory. The Birdstone colt showed his class in the Preakness, and they way he skipped over that messy Churchill track can’t be ignored.

It appears that the Derby winner is headed up I95 to New York as his connections believe a smaller field and a longer race bodes well for his fast-closing colt.

“My horse will be much more suited to the Belmont: big wide track, big wide sweeping turns. It should play a little better to my horse,” trainer Chip Woolley said. “It’ll probably be a shorter field, which eliminates some of the traffic. We’re excited about going.”

Woolley said Mike Smith would remain aboard Mine That Bird, even if Rachel Alexandra doesn’t run. And then, Smith said he wouldn’t because of a previous engagement in California. Huh? Yes, yesterday’s Smith’s agent Brad Pegram, said the Hall of Fame jockey will ride Madeo in the Grade I Whittingham Stakes at Hollywood Park.

“I ride basically everything for the Mosses,” Smith said. “It’s an obligation I made and it’s a very important race for us here. (Madeo) is a very talented colt and it’s a Grade I. I have to stand by the people that stand by me all the time. Not that (Mine That Bird’s) people didn’t stand by me, but I picked that horse up over the circumstances.”

Smith won the Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo for Shirreffs and the Mosses in 2005. He also rides the champion filly Zenyatta for them.

Now that’s good loyalty, but it’s bad math. The purse for the Belmont is $1 million while the purse for the Whittingham is $300,000. That means the winning jock in the third jewel of the Triple Crown gets $62,000 while the winning jock in the Whittingham pockets $18,600. That’s some expensive loyalty.

And that brings us to Borel. According to the Daily Racing Form, he’s the first jockey to ever get off a Kentucky Derby winner that ran back in the Preakness. Of course, he added a footnote by winning the race on his new mount.

Has one jockey ever won all three Triple Crown races on two or three different horses? Various media sources say it has never happened, but if Rachel Alexandra does run in the Belmont, the likable Cajun will be positioned to do just that. If she doesn’t run, you can bet that Borel and his agent will be burning up MTB’s connection’s cell phones looking to get back on the Derby winner.

You can also bet that is exactly the type of story the NYRA marketing folks are looking for in the absence of the traditional Triple Crown.

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