“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?