May 8, 2009

Rachel Getting... SOLD!

I just had my breath knocked out after reading that phenom filly and my modern day "Cigar", Rachel Alexandra, has been sold to Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Farms (Curlin's majority owner) for an unspecified amount. My best guess would put this sum at over $5 million; anything less would be pimping this magnificent filly out like a cheap prostitute. However, Jackson showed a lot of class with previous super-horse Curlin by bringing him back for a four year-old campaign and even reluctantly running the champ in the Breeders' Cup Classic, knowing the race and surface would not best suit him.

Part of my feeling of betrayal is due to my special bond with Rachel. I thought I was her #1 fan who was entitled to approve any deals, but obviously Jackson must be to put up that kind of money. I first met Rachel when making her sophomore bow in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park over President's Day weekend. Everyone there was aware of her talent, as she paid a meager $2.80 to win and $2.20 to show. But few expected the luminary that she turned out to be. For the next three races I became a groupie... always pushing my way to the prime spot in front of Rachel's paddock stall while following Rachel to Louisiana in the slop, back to Arkansas and finally to the mecca of horse racing where her God-given talent transformed into legend before 104,867 sets of eyes. I even got a "thumbs up" when calling out to Borel as he led Rachel out of the Churchill Downs paddock (slightly viewable on Bravo's Kentucky Oaks coverage).

But what's the big deal - right - favorites are always SUPPOSED to win! I have personally witnessed three marquee races in particular that were expected to be coronations, yet turned out to be humbling experiences. Last October, Curlin entered the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita having not lost on dirt since August of 2007 and was thus sent off as the "odds-on" favorite. The synthetic surface perhaps partially to blame, nonetheless, Curlin labored through the stretch to a fourth place finish. Smarty Jones was set to become the last unbeaten Triple Crown winner since the great Seattle Slew in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. It's just that someone forgot to tell Nick Zito and Birdstone to let the 2-5 favored Smarty Jones win. And perhaps the toughest blow on me personally was the 1996 Pacific Classic, in which Dick Mandella used two horses to "tag team" the 16 consecutive race winner Cigar by baiting him into a suicidal speed duel with Siphon, while setting it up for his other closer, Dare And Go. This lone poor ride on Cigar is why Jerry Bailey can never be regarded as the best jockey of his generation.

So, clearly, I know something about heartbreak at the track. (Sidebar: spaking of heartbreaks, the reason I've never been a big Calvin Borel fan is that he cost me a winning Pick 6 ticket at Louisiana Downs when I was about 16. After hitting 5 in a row, I went into the 8th race with two horses alive for an anticipated $40,000 payoff. I had the race favorite and a mid-priced horse Borel was riding, who got blocked around the turn stuck on the rail and had to swing extremely wide, coming up a head short at the wire! Even the 5 of 6 consolation money couldn't deter my hatred of Borel. But for the record, after two decades I have dealt with my anger and now I'm very happy for his recent successes.)

Which makes Rachel's astonishing twenty and one-quarter length romp in the 135th running of the Kentucky Oaks all the more impressive. And all the while Borel had a firm hold of her reigns in the stretch, customarily gawking at the crowd and rubbing Rachel's neck (which probably cost her the .20 seconds off a track record!) while waiting for competition, but yet again there was none. Now I've seen some 12 length romps in my day, but they're usually in a state-bred maiden race or a conditioned allowance race, not at the highest level of racing that is supposed to include the best of the best. By contrast, Mine That Bird's 6 1/2 length score in The Derby was the largest margin of victory since Assault won The 1946 Derby by eight lengths en route to the Triple Crown. And keep in mind that Rachel Alexandra had a shorter distance by an eighth of a mile to create that separation. Makes you wonder how much she could have won by running a mile and a half... I'd take Rachel and the "over" on Secretariat's 31 length Belmont triumph. Rachel and Secretariat in the same sentence?? You damned right!

Give 'em hell in the Preakness, Rachel, your biggest fan will be watching.

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