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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Letting the Filly out of the Barn

“Back home we have a saying—if you want to win the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your best stallion in the stable.” – Leonard McCoy, after Spock ejects Kirk from the Enterprise onto planet Delta Vega (Star Trek, 2009)

Being probably the only Trekkie in a theater full of geeks to fully appreciate the Kentucky Derby reference in the new Star Trek movie, it took on a strikingly ironic tone with news that, in fact, the best filly left in the stable won’t be relegated to it for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Newly purchased by Jess Jackson, Rachel Alexandra will run in the G1 Preakness—if the other owners don’t collude to enter enough already-nominated horses to exclude her. Oh, what an outcry that would cause! The best course of action, boys, is take it like men—and take her on directly. It’s not exactly reassuring about the current crop of colts that they want to avoid her, though. While not certain that she will win, I do believe the only way to judge her greatness—and that of every other horse in the field—is to run her.

For those who banter about the names Ruffian and Eight Belles as reasons not to run her, how very short-sighted and historically-inaccurate.

I could present a host of examples from the 19th and early 20th centuries (Affectionately, Silver Spoon, Two Lea, Busher, Black Helen, Beldame, Lady’s Secret, Shuvee, Tosmah, Bewitch, Chris Evert, Gallorette, Maskette, and Top Flight), but you don’t have to look that far back to see extraordinary fillies and mares perform on par or surpass their male counterparts—and I’ll just stick to those racing on dirt so as not to muddle the argument.

In 1995, Serena’s Song won the Derby prep Jim Beam (now Lane’s End) Stakes, but failed to hit the board in the big race itself. Still, two weeks later she came back to win the Black-Eyed Susan in a romp. After a victory in the Mother Goose and a narrow loss in the CCA Oaks, she defeated 10 males in the Haskell Invitational. It wouldn’t be the last time she took on the boys.

In 1988, front-running Winning Colors came out of her record-setting Santa Anita Derby win to wire the Kentucky Derby, and then take third in the Preakness behind Risen Star who went on to win the Belmont. Although she finished out the money in the Belmont, the experience didn’t break her, as her Breeders’ Cup Distaff battle with Personal Ensign will go down as one of the best BC races ever. And undefeated Personal Ensign had won the Whitney Handicap over Gulch and King’s Swan that year.

How about Genuine Risk? She’s come closer than most colts and geldings to winning the Triple Crown—after her 1980 Kentucky Derby victory, she finished a heart-breaking second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. That summer she lost the G2 Maskette Stakes by a nose to Kentucky Oaks victress Bold ‘n Determined, but in September, she came back to win the G1 Ruffian Handicap against two great fillies—Misty Gallore and It’s in the Air.

My point? Ruffian and Eight Belles are anomalies, not the norm, and shouldn’t be an excuse for preventing Rachel Alexandra in proving her mettle.

In another historic move, Calvin Borel becomes the first Kentucky Derby jockey to jump off the winner and onto another horse in the Preakness. Undoubtedly, it was the right decision for Borel because he’s a simple, passionate man who obviously loves Rachel Alexandra—she’s definitely not just another mount for him, and it’s a thing of beauty to watch them work in harmony together. After what can best be described as the greatest two-day orgasm a jockey ever enjoyed (in winning the Oaks and Derby), Borel chose with his heart, and I can’t fault that. Whether she really is, as he said after the Oaks, the best horse he ever rode (including Street Sense), we’ll soon find out.

Bill Christine over at Horserace Insider speculates that a possible rider for Mine That Bird is Mike Smith, although Jeremy Rose’s name is also being tossed around. Personally, I’d love to see his connections bring back Chantal Sutherland. With only two female jockeys—Patty Cooksey (Tajawa, 1985) and Andrea Seefeldt (Looming, 1994)—having rode in the entire 134 year history of the Preakness, wouldn’t that be just as great a story as Rachel herself—especially if Sutherland went on to complete Mine That Bird’s Triple Crown? Oh, I might be dreaming here, but this year has already taken on a surreal aura. Why not dream big?


Superfecta said...

Now I really must go see it! I'm currently debating how angry audiences would be if I bring the 4-year-old...

tvnewsbadge said...

If Malcolm Franklin ends up on Mine That Bird, you heard it here first.

I think Rachel Alexandra should run, no question. However, I don't think Jess Jackson hi-jacking Mine That Bird's jockey is going to do horse racing any good.
Reason being, at this point, Rachel Alexandra has no shot at the Triple Crown, but no matter how unlikely, Mine That Bird does. As slim as his chances might be, they are zero without Calvin Borel.
Certainly, Jackson could have arranged for him to stay with Mine That Bird for just this one race.

And P.S.While it's understandable why Calvin Borel chose the "safe bet" Rachel Alexandra over the "long shot" Mine That Bird, someone should remind him that Rachel Alexandra and Jess Jackson aren't the ones who put him on the cover of Sports Illust

Sharon Crute said...

To tvnewsbadge: with all due respect sir, where is your sense of romanticism that has carried this series through best sellers, film, documentary, song, great paintings and through the worst of times?

In an era of bleak economics, this endearing story captures our imagination and is recruiting new fans. Seems Calvin made his decision by his own volition, not by way of hi-jacking. The horse is still determinate of who's the champ, and we can't wait to see.

We wish MTB all the best of success. If he's that good, he'll win with any top rider against all comers. Racing needs a champ/hero/heroine.

belles forever said...

well said sharon..we do need a hero or heroine.the best horse on that day shall win! just give us something to cheer about.

SaratogaSpa said...

Lets not forget Rags To Riches, the filly who ran in the Belmont and beat the Great Curlin.

tvnewsbadge said...

" Racing needs a champ/hero/heroine."
Exactly my point, and Rachel Alexandra isn't that horse today. Mine That Bird is.
Sure, she's of interest to horse racing fans but at this point, she will not cross party lines and bring few if any new folks into the tent.
The bottom line, what horse racing desperately needs right now is a Triple Crown winner or at least a heroic effort seeking same, and Rachel Alexandra can't provide that.
The BEST she can do is win the Preakness and the Belmont, be cheered for her victories over the boys and then promptly forgotten (by the general public).
As great as a horse as she might ultimately prove to be, she is basically (again, as far as bringing new luster to the sport of horse racing) a one trick pony.
Take away her sex, and all you're left with is another potentially great "niche" horse, loved by the horse racing community, and largely unknown among the general public.
It sucks to contemplate it, but by skipping the Derby, Rachel Alexandra lost her chance to be that "feel good" story the sport desperately needs.
Thought this coming Saturday, at least, Mine That Bird can still provide that story.

"we do need a hero or heroine.the best horse on that day shall win! just give us something to cheer about."
I read that Calvin Borel is apparently the only jockey in Triple Crown history to jump ship after winning the Derby. Sure, Mine That Bird can still win, but I'm afraid this defection will very well mean he'll be saddled with defeat.
And I don't think the sport needs something for "us" to cheer about, we need is something for the that great body of non-fans to cheer about., and it is Mine That Bird, not Rachel Alexandra that is that horse today.

Takeahold said...

If Mine That Bird is all that he will win.

The horse is still the champion and it is proven every day. No horse no rider. Period.

I say let the best horse on that day win. There is a reason there has not been a triple crown winner in so long. It is special and it should remain so.

Bottom line is "Beat me if you can!"

tvnewsbadge said...

"I say let the best horse on that day win. There is a reason there has not been a triple crown winner in so long. It is special and it should remain so."
I agree with that 100 percent but what I'm saying is that the playing field should be level and when a winning combination is broken up like this, it is not.Otherwise, why is this the first time in the history of the Triple Crown series that a jockey jumped ship on a horse that won the Kentucky Derby?

Let's turn it around, if the jockey is not a factor, why is it so essential that Borel ride Rachel Alexandra ? Because Jess Jackson doesn't want to take any chances.

Takeahold said...

Calvin has chosen the right mount because she is the right horse to ride. She is the best in the world at this time. The best should always run against the best no matter what sex is involved. The playing field is now level.

Yes it is a first for the Preakness and it is just business.

In the past many riders have chosen to ride a better horse in another race instead of the Preakness. Riders (and agents) jump ship all the time and try to pick the best. As I said it is just a business choice.

We will all know soon!

Don't you just love it!

tvnewsbadge said...

"As I said it is just a business choice."
And that's very sad and is the reason the sport of horse racing is in the shape it is today.
Too much business and not enough sportmanship.

Takeahold said...

"And that's very sad and is the reason the sport of horse racing is in the shape it is today.
Too much business and not enough sportmanship."

I couldn't have said it better! That is what has kept me out of racing since 2006. When told to "win at any cost" I made up my mind and quit!

TyroCat said...

There is no guarantee that keeping the same jockey throughout all three races will bring home the Crown. In some cases, a change of jockey might have helped a racer's chances (Ronnie Franklin's questionable ride of Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Belmont springs to mind).

If I bet on races, my money would follow Calvin Borel, whichever horse he rode in the Preakness. I really like the respectful, joyful attitude he's presented on TV after his big wins.

As anxious as I am to see another Triple Crown winner, I do not fault Calvin a bit for staying with Rachel Alexandra. (At this point, though, I kinda wish she had run in the Derby!)

tvnewsbadge said...

"There is no guarantee that keeping the same jockey throughout all three races will bring home the Crown."
Sure, that's been proven many many times. I don't think Mine That Bird will win the TC even with Borel. However, I also believe that with Borel jumping ship, Mine That Bird's chances are far less than they would have been with him aboard, and that's not in the best interest of a sport on the ropes.