06/26/2009 7:50PM

Here's to You, Mr. Jackson


He said it like it was a dirty word. Plastic. That is how Jess Jackson described the material covering Santa Anita's main track. Plastic. Not synthetic. Not engineered. Not all-weather. And certainly not by its product name, which is Pro-Ride.

He called it plastic, as if he'd just sipped a sour wine, and let it hang that way, rich with the negative connotations that have clung to the word since the 1960s. Plastic is phony. Plastic is cheesy. Plastic represents all that Mother Nature is not.

Plastic is what he called the racetrack over which the Breeders' Cup will be contested later this year. And plastic is something that his newly purchased superstar filly Rachel Alexandra will never, ever set foot upon as long as Jackson controls her destiny. Our loss, I guess.

Plastic used to be cool, a long time ago. Plastic gave us Disneyland, LPs, implants, rollerblades and the modern poker chip. Then plastic six-pack rings began choking fish and waterfowl to death and washing ashore by the long ton, while landfills full of plastic started growing to the size of small cities.


There is no truth to the tale, although Jess Jackson might say it's so, that the people who decided to go with synthetic surfaces in California were deeply influenced by the most famous one-word line of dialogue in movie history. The movie was "The Graduate," released in 1967. Watch and listen: 


Plastics 'Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?'

To be fair, Jackson is on the right track, plastically speaking. The Pro-Ride surface is comprised of about 87% sand, coated in a polymer compound. Plastic, in all its many forms, is based on polymer technology. Polymer plastic, in fact, is defined as, "The product of a high polymer with or without additives, such as plasticizers, autooxidants, colorants, or fillers; can be sprayed, shaped, molded, extruded, cast or foamed, depending on whether it is thermoplastic or thermosetting." No, it does not sound like something suited to Man o' War.

Here's the problem, though. Jess Jackson has decided to blame not running Rachel Alexandra in a Breeders' Cup race on a racetrack he thinks she can't handle. This is called getting out in front of the issue, as opposed to blaming the track after the fact for Curlin's loss last October in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. On plastic. Jackson owns Curlin, too.

If he does not want to run in the Breeders' Cup for whatever reason, that's fine. It costs a lot, and the competition is steep. If he feels Rachel Alexandra is not versatile enough to handle a particular type of ground, that's nothing to be ashamed of. Round Table could not deal with soft turf. Kelso was a flop in California. For all she has accomplished, Rachel Alexandra needs to do nothing more to assure her place in racing history.

But Jackson goes too far. By implication, and repetition, he is calling everyone else a sap who would tolerate running their "dirt" horses on anything but an old-fashioned dirt track. For this I have just one word: Monmouth Park.

Okay, two. But here's my rule--any owner who allowed their horse to compete on the main track at Monmouth Park in the 2007 Breeders' Cup forfeited their right once and forever to criticize the conditions of any racing surface anywhere. Not even Curlin loved that treacherous mess. He just survived it faster than any other horse that day.

Both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have challenges ahead before the Breeders' Cup comes into view, beginning Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park and Hollywood Park. In terms of karma, about the worst thing a fellow can do in horse racing is talk about tomorrow when there is work to be done today. Still, Mr. Jackson makes a fine bottle of wine, which is where I'm going right now as Friday afternoon fades. There's a nice chardonnay in the fridge, rightly priced for a racing writer, and...what's this?

The cork...is made...of plastic.