09/07/2009 10:42AM

Rachel!

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   Twentysomething racing fans - all six of them - lament having missed the Sensational Seventies and the chance to watch Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Affirmed vs. Alydar, and Forego.

    Similarly, I have wished I was cognizant of something other than The Beatles during the 1960s. The Super Sixties were short on Triple Crown winners but no less prolific in producing memorable thoroughbreds, such as Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, Damascus and Kelso.

     But today’s horseplayers of all ages should savor the opportunity to watch Rachel Alexandra, who in Saturday’s Woodward Stakes proved conclusively to even her doubters that she belongs high on the list of the greatest female racehorses ever to run in this country. 

     Ranking horses of different eras is subjective, of course, but in my eyes, Rachel Alexandra is now a clear No. 1 ahead of Ruffian, Miesque, Personal Ensign and Busher. Comparing Rachel to Ruffian is especially tricky, but unfair or not, Ruffian’s only start against males was in the match race that ended with her demise. The others on that list defeated top-class males.

     Zenyatta would certainly merit inclusion if she wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and although the dream matchup with Rachel might seem unlikely now, it could still happen at some point.

     If it doesn’t, it’s wrong to point the finger entirely at Jess Jackson.

    Last year, Jackson was strongly counseled not to run Curlin on a synthetic surface in the Classic, but overruled his advisors. Curlin wound up claiming Horse of the Year despite his fourth-place finish, despite some of his supporters switching their votes to Ladies Classic winner Zenyatta, whose late-running style benefits from synthetics and whose California-centric campaign was infinitely more conservative than the route Jackson chose for Curlin.

     Now Jackson has again aggressively handled a superstar, sending Rachel Alexandra against 3-year-old males, older males and to major stakes races in Maryland, New York and New Jersey after she had already run in Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky. By comparison, Zenyatta has again been handled with kid gloves, remaining exclusively on the West Coast to prepare for a second straight Breeders’ Cup at Oak Tree.  As was the case last year with Curlin, Jackson could pull the plug on Rachel Alexandra today and be virtually assured of Horse of the Year, yet he has stated he is willing to run her against Zenyatta for $1 million in the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park, or possibly in a post-Breeders’ Cup race at, say, Churchill Downs or Fair Grounds. Rachel Alexandra has raced and won over synthetics once, but her best races have been on dirt, and the general tendencies of synthetic surfaces would give Zenyatta a built-in advantage. Jackson can’t be blamed for wondering why he should be the only one to make all his decisions based on the good of the sport.

     Perhaps the connections of Zenyatta will relent on the Beldame to chase the Horse of the Year title, or agree to a post-Breeders’ Cup matchup, or keep her in training long enough in 2010 to get it done.

     As for the way Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen have handled Rachel Alexandra thus far, they deserve nothing but platitudes.

     Prior to the Preakness, I thought Jackson was unnecessarily risking Rachel’s future by bringing her back just 15 days after her historic Kentucky Oaks performance. I expected her to win the Preakness, but thought she instead should have been pointed for the Belmont Stakes three weeks later; she would have won that, too. In fact, I told a USA Today reporter that based on careers of other recent racehorses put through similar stress, she had a 50/50 chance of running only once or twice following the Preakness before being sidelined by injury. 

     The rest of Rachel Alexandra’s ambitious 3-year-old campaign has proven she is more durable than the average equine superstar. Jackson was right and I was wrong.

     More recently, it was easy to understand the basis of Jackson’s choice to run his colt Kensei in the Travers and point Rachel Alexandra to the Woodward. Still, I argued that the Travers was a more challenging spot with a higher profile. It can hardly be debated Rachel-in-the-Travers would have given the sport far more national publicity - and aside from broader TV coverage and the point that Saturday marked college football’s opening weekend, I’d wager most general sports fans recognize the Travers and think the Woodward is a musical instrument. But the importance of such extra exposure is difficult to quantify, and hardcore fans recognize Rachel added another paragraph to her sparkling resume Saturday by beating older males. She also seemed to need the extra week of rest she wouldn’t have gotten by running in the Travers.

Medlocke More than 1 year ago
Granted, Rachael Alexandra is a terrific filly that's had a terrific year. But on that list of super 70's horses, which I'm old enough that I saw them back to Secretariat, you forgot Ruffian. And Ruffian she ain't. Rachael's won 8 straight races, Ruffian set 8 straight stakes or track records. As for the Rachael vs. Zenyatta showdown, they're both great in their own right. Take Zenyatta, now 13-0, I don't care if you're racing mules, it's hard to win 13 races without losing one. As for Rachael Alexandra not competing in the Breeders Cup, I say "HOGWASH". Rachael isn't Curlin. She's ran at Keenland, and if memory serves, she ran just fine. So Jesse Jackson, don't blame the synthetics. I thought championship caliber horses were supposed to run in championship caliber races. Rachael is dodging this one.
Ed Schreiner More than 1 year ago
I didn't miss the greats from the 60s, including Northern Dancer, but I did miss getting important information on the greats from Europe, during the 60s and 70s. They were in a separate world, as far as news. You never heard anything about them over here.
paul cervenan More than 1 year ago
I watched the Ruffian/ Honest Pleasure match race at Belmont Park when Ruffian broke down on the backstretch. What oldtimers on the backside had hailed for years prior, (that fillies had no business competing with the boys) finally sunk in. I hated to see such talent and goodness destroyed in a heartbeat. I do still believe in their(old fashion common sense), call it what you may. If the Woodward was NOT shortened from 1-1/4 to 1-1/8th for Rachel, she would have been beaten. They would not shorten the Travers. So Jess Smith and Steve Asmusson opted for a select spot. They are munipulating horse racing to their/Rachel's best advantages. And that's all well and good. But, lets be honest.....what has played out here is all for horse racing....the sport......and you, columnist's, jobs. Without these two fillies competing the way they are what would you have to write about? It would just be another mundane year without a Triple Crown winner and lack luster horse racing. No sensationalism, just ordinary. When War Admiral would not come to Santa Anita, Seabiscuit went to War Admiral, neither the Moss's or Jess Jackson have that kind of class, it's not who is best anymore, it's all about "Horse of the Year" and how much money they can rake in? How many Eclipse Awards can be gotten.
bijjjoux More than 1 year ago
We all know you talk to Jess Jackson regularly and are clearly drinking his Kool-Aid, if anyone cares to read any of this... Jackson's a sore loser...Curlin was beatable on dirt, grass and synthetics but he can't admit it. He cherry picks races for his horses and then blames the surface. Zenyatta's campaign was not infinitely more conservative than Curlin's last year....she ran on dirt and every synthetic there is, in a much deeper division than Curlin and ended the year UNDEFEATED. Even YOU are on tape at the end of the ESPN Broadcast saying that you would give Horse of the Year 2008 to Zenyatta after Curlin finished off the board at the Breeder's Cup after only a 3 race campaign in the states!!!! Rachel not showing at the Breeder's Cup and clearly not able to race to a true classic distance of a mile and 1/4 vs the truly best horses in the world does not merit an automatic Horse of the Year title.
Walt Parker More than 1 year ago
As I've said before in the other blogs, what I would be doing if I were at Philadelphia Park (and I actually sent a "snail mail" to Philly Park about this a few months ago) is to work a deal out with Magna to transfer the Pimlico Special (Grade 1) to Philadelphia Park for this year (as it was cancelled at Pimlico due to trying to maintain the purse structure there), with Philly Park making it a weight-for-age, $1 Million invitational (with no nomination or starting fees) at the Special's traditional 1 3/16 Mile distance. As I would do it, there would also be incentives that would increase the purse of the Special to $1.5 million if Rachel and Zenyatta showed up, $2 million if another former winner of a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race showed up (mainly to get Mine That Bird or Summer Bird), and $3 million if two such additional horses showed up (mainly to get both MTB and SB in addition to Rachel and Zenyatta). Among those who would also get guaranteed berths (based on wins in designated races) as I would do it would be Richard's Kid (Pacific Classic winner), Bullsbay (Whitney Winner) and Gone Astray (Pennsylvania Derby Winner, the winners of the Woodward and Travers had they not been Rachel and SB respectively would also have gotten berths as I would have done it), with a field of 14 invitees released about two weeks before a running of the Pimlico Special that I would have penciled in for Saturday, October 10 or Sunday, October 11 at Philadelphia Park. That to me is still the best shot at getting Rachel and Zenyatta together if Philly Park wanted to do it at this late date.
Judy Fraizer More than 1 year ago
It was a thing of beauty to watch Rachel run. Art at it's highest level. She doesn't need the BC, and Jackson is right to not send her. Maybe if it was going to be run on dirt, he'd have to think about running her, but not on the "rubber road." My wonderful memory horse was John Henry. I can just now talk about him without crying (most of the time). Rachel will join John there in that special place where memories are stored like treasures. I hope to see you in Lexington again Randy. This time I will try not to fall over your bag at the airport. This time, we can talk about the privilege we have had to watch these fabulous horses that make our hearts race. judy
dale tillotson More than 1 year ago
While I consider Secretariat to be the greatest athlete to have ever lived, human or equine. I for one put Rachels effort in the Woodward as maybe better than Big Reds Belmont. Pressured all the way with very little breather between the quarter and the half she would not be denied at the wire from all those older boys chasing her. She seemed to enjoy running from them older boys makes you wonder what the breeding shed will produce.
Larry More than 1 year ago
Running the last 1/16 in 12.4 seconds in the Woodward and not getting caught by Mach Uno a nice horse but surely no real star isn't anything spectacular. RA didn't run a mile and a quarter and ran in one leg of the triple crown, drawing a perfect outside post to keep her from getting into any trouble in the Preakness. You want to be HOY as a 3 year old filly, you run in all the Triple Crown events, not the one that fits your style. Nice Filly but only the 3 Year Old Filly of the year without running in the Breeders cup in a full field on the West Coast. West Coast horses come to the East for the Breeders Cups but only a few East Coast animals usually make the trip out West. HOY honors go to horses who duck no one. The owners of RA know that speed is not a real advantage at SA thus they will duck the big boys. They want everything in her favor when she runs, which it mostly has been, Just like the owners of Zenyatta. Genuine Risk, Winning Colors, Lady's Secret and Ruffian were better Fillies and Mares.
Ted Rood More than 1 year ago
"The Commissioner Speaks" In a hastily arranged, bizarre news conference today, newly appointed Racing Czar Jerome Hirsch made several surprising, if not surreal announcements. "First of all, I'm sick of all this whining about medication and racing surfaces", said Hirsch. "As Rick Dutrow told me just the other day, 'I pay my vets big money for one reason, and they damn well better earn it!" Hirsch said the Breeder's Cup was a failed experiment, and would subsequently be renamed the "Steroid Cup". As an owner, he said his philosophy has always been "if you can't beat them, out medicate them. Lord knows I tried to beat them all, just didn't always have the right juice. I even tried Wrap'N'Win, for heaven's sake!" When asked about personal drug use, Hirsch issued a strong denial that he had ever taken steroids. "Are you high?", he quizzically asked a reporter. "Do I look like I've ever taken steroids? Wouldn't I weigh more than 140 pounds if I was juicing?" As to the persistent rumors that past post-time money was entering pools and unfairly influencing payoffs, Hirsch said "I have no idea if this is happening or how to do it. Does anyone here know how?" He later explained that he was merely interested in the issue as it impacts the racing industry, and did not plan to regularly make such wagers "unless absolutely necessary for research purposes". Hirsch called for several immediate changes in racing: Bikini girls in winners circles at all times; remedial courtesy and math courses for tellers; and the permanent closure of all racetrack kitchens. "Racing fans face incessant pain, misery and despair as it is", he stated. "An ideal day at the races should be free of rampant botulism and e coli. Racing customers need to concentrate on things like betting Kent Desormeaux on Big Brown, or loading up on Eibar Coa on a triple fig 3/5 shot only to have him fall off at the starting gate, or begging a drunken, surly, and disinterested teller to correctly key in a superfecta at post time! Those are the joys of racing we want them to focus on." When asked whether drugs were a growing problem in racing today, Hirsch said "Not really, I mean, er, anyone, can usually get what they want on the backside. Just depends on what you're looking for and who you know. Sometimes it's a little hard on short notice, but overall availability seems OK." Hirsch concluded his initial press conference by bemoaning the economics of racing in an age of government bailouts: "Racing has thousands of shovel ready jobs cleaning stalls, and we haven't seen a stinking nickel of tax payer money! Isn't IEAH too big to fail? The only stimulus I've seen are the friendly tips from jocks whose suspensions I overrule!" "To be continued"
slewofdamascus More than 1 year ago
You pretty much nailed this, Randy Moss, save the weak rationalization for dumping all over the connections on ESPN during the Travers, not to mention misleading viewers on the historical importance of beating older males versus starting in the Travers. [When are we (actually, you and the other ESPN "talent") going to stop routinely mis-informing and talking-down-to the public via ESPN Horseracing telecasts? When Bailey says something STUPID, it would be nice if saomeone called him on it instead of protecting his ego and in the process a whole audience loses the chance to really learn something unique and informative about the game. They would also learn the fun in matching wits against other like-minded folk, for real money! Jmo, of course] Keep up the good work! [just kidding]
JP More than 1 year ago
Until I read this article I had the utmost respect for your opinions. However, now.... Next thing I know you'll be comparing RA to Secretariat! Look back at some of her races, Randy. She had absolutely no competion in the Kentucky Oaks so regardless of whether she won by 1 length or 50, that race is a throwaway. Next, the Preakness. Had MTB had a little more real estate he surely would've beaten RA and she was noticeably tiring at the end. Last weekend -she won by a head - not exactly (as one of your colleagues stated) "showing the boys her heels". Yes, she is a nice filly but not the be-all and end-all that y'all are falling all yourselves to pontificate about and fawn over. And we all know Jackson's intent - as he stated repeatedly, he wants to bred her to Curlin'. Good horse - yes. Above average horse - yes. Superstar horse - absolutely not. If she wants to sit in that rarifed air y'all are so intent on placing her in then she needs to be and beat the best. And I'it's beyond sad that you choose to compare her to the best of yore. I'm sure you'll take umbrage with my comments - I hope you don't - but RA has been elevated to a stature not justified. Sure, y'all will fall all over yourselves to make her Horse of the Year and that is truly a shame. But, just as gold, fame and fortune blinds some so too are many blinded by RA.
Ray Manley More than 1 year ago
Rachel is a clear number 1 ahead of Ruffian? That's just like saying Ruffian would have dusted Rachel...which in my book is exactly what would have happened. I was at Saratoga on Saturday. And if the game could bottle the crowd reaction during the running of the Woodward there would be no such thing as racinos. The atmosphere on Saturday was electric, the crowd's roar was deafening and for a moment I thought I was back in the 70's.
GregB More than 1 year ago
"...deserve nothing but platitudes." Platitudes? LOL You might want to look up that one in a dictionary.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
Very good article. There were alot of people worried about Rachel when she ran in the Preakness. Most of those people were concerned about her physical well-being in the race itself, but others, like yourself, were concerned about her well-being in future races. And, the Preakness did end up being a very demanding race, with Rachel breaking from post 13 and having to duel with Big Drama. Also, given all her accomplishments, it is easy to forget the Preakness came only 15 day after a record breaking win in the Oaks and that her previous owner and trainer were not planning on bringing her back so quickly. The fact she has since gone on to win the Mother Goose by almost 20, the Haskell by 6, and now the Woodward over older males is truly remarkable.
DC Horseplayer More than 1 year ago
I am far from a fan of synthetic racing surfaces, but I can't say that synthetic racing surfaces are, per se, worse than traditional dirt surfaces. They are simply different. From a horseplayer's perspective, the surface is merely another handicapping factor and gives astute players an edge over those who don't utilize track biases and profiles. From a fan's perspective, synthetic surfaces aren't radically different -- though they are indeed different -- than artificial surfaces in other sports: I don't like them, but they are a reality, here to stay, and unworthy of such moral outrage. To be sure, I think the burden is on Jerry Moss to take the sporting step of shipping Zenyatta east to meet Rachel Alexandra in the Beldame at Belmont Park. Zenyatta has had a cushy schedule against cupcakes in SoCal on the circuit's turf-like synthetic surfaces, and it looks, unfortunately, as if the mare is being preserved to break Personal Ensign's 13-race record. I grant critics that, and I'm with them. However, Jess Jackson's complete disdain for synthetics -- exacerbated by Curlin's loss in last year's BC Classic -- is not exactly completely defensible. The Breeders' Cup is, indeed, the closest thing to the "Super Bowl" of horse racing, and like it or not -- for me it's a definite "not" -- the Super Bowl of horse racing is being held for the second year in a row at Santa Anita. If Rachel Alexandra were to lose in this year's Breeders' Cup on the synths of Santa Anita, then it would mean even less than Curlin's loss on the same stuff last year: she would be the best dirt Thoroughbred racehorse in the world who lost on a synthetic racing surface and would still get the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. A loss would be what it is -- and nothing more. The 1999 St. Louis Rams and their "Greatest Show on Turf" were clearly aided by a synthetic playing surface at home, and the Georgia Dome was clearly an advantageous venue for their 2000 Super Bowl victory. Yet, no one made an excuse for the Tennessee Titans that year, which was a power team that played on natural grass and lacked the natural speed that is so conducive to artificial turf. Conversely, no one lambasted the Rams when that same artificial-turf-biased team LOST in the 2002 Super Bowl to the power-based, natural grass underdogs, the New England Patriots, in the Super Dome. The Pats overcame the artificial turf of New Orleans. For NFL fans, the Super Bowl is sometimes played on natural grass; other times its played on artificial turf. And for that matter, difference in venue is simply a fact of the sport. Does anyone diminish Barry Sanders for being better on artificial turf? Does anyone diminish the Green Bay Packers for their advantage outdoors on natural grass in the cold? Of course, I understand that football and horse racing are not completely analogous, and the difference in human performances on natural grass versus artificial surfaces is not as pronounced as the difference between equine performances on dirt and synthetic surfaces. Nonetheless, at some point, the rhetoric becomes hyperbole, and horse racing looks too much like boxing where fighters duck each other, and fans are deprived of the fights we want to see. Again, I agree that the burden is on Moss to ship Zenyatta to Belmont Park in the Beldame (or another dirt race) against Rachel Alexandra; but I also don't buy this notion that Jess Jackson is COMPLETELY off the hook simply because he's shown exemplary sportsmanship in the past and because Curlin did so poorly in the Breeders' Cup. Horse racing is in sad decline -- as evidenced by the pathetic disinterest of any major network to televise the Woodward -- and Rachel Alexandra is the best thing we've seen in quite some time. She is simply magnificent, and I love her for what she's done for me as a genuine sports fan. Though the equine superstar is not the answer to reviving interest in the dying sport of horse racing -- gambling and the attractiveness of handicapping-horseplaying is -- we need to nonetheless showcase our top stars as much as we can and at all costs. Making excuses for Jess Jackson for not running Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders' Cup -- though I am sympathetic -- is borne more from my personal dislike for synthetic racing surfaces than from my objective analysis on what is best for horse racing based on how other sports operate. Horse racing needs Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to meet a race -- ANY race -- period. I hope it's in the Beldame. If not, I hope it's in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the greatest sporting event in the world that was created to resolve the very controversies we are debating now.
Patrick More than 1 year ago
Randy, As someone who computes Beyer Speed Figures, how difficult would it be for someone to make figures for the great horses that ran in the 1960s? I have access to a complete set of DRF chart books from the decade and have always thought about taking a swing at making Beyer pars/figures for the NYRA tracks as a special project. Any suggestions or advice? Thanks.
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoy your perspective Randy. I take no issue with your point of view on Rachel Alexandra. I was fortunate enough to be at Saratoga for the Woodward and it was a tremendous experience. I've been going since 1975 and last Saturday rates up there with just about anything I can remember. That being said, I loved Macho Again and still can't believe he didn't get her. So be it. I'm hoping RA's connections are not tempted to alter their plans if they in fact feel she has done enough for the year. I totally agree. It seems to me that she has a wheelhouse that taps out at about 1 1/8th miles. This is not a knock, just my opinion, and not bad for a 3 yr old filly. I am an east coast fan who happens to feel that Zenyatta has been given short shrift in all the ballyhoo. With her style of running, in a legitimate race (not a match race, God forbid!) with a contentious pace I think Zenyatta has an excellent chance of beating Rachel Alexandra. On dirt. If I get the chance and the tote board is as lopsided as it was last Saturday I will pound against RA again. Hope we get the chance as long as it's right for both horses. I always hate to see the best interests of the horse sacrificed for human reasons.
RobH More than 1 year ago
I just don't understand how hanging on by a nose against a Grade 2 horse merits any type of best ever tag. You obviously can't help who shows up - but the fact of the matter is that was NOT a Grade 1 quality field. You just can't make the argument that Bullsbay, It's a Bird or Asiatic Boy strike the fear in any trainers - and I certainly doubt they'd strike fear in the all time great female racehorses you've slotted Rachel Alexandra ahead of. Everything is so subjective - do you think she'd have won the Pacific Classic in a larger field against 12 horses going 1-1/4 miles? I don't think she ever would've seen a breather and would've lost. I'll agree she's an excellent horse - but there's a disturbing trend the past 2 years beginning w/ Curlin and now this filly. These 'best ever' tags are getting ridiculous. Next thing we're going to hear from her knucklehead owner is how she's going to win the Arc in Paris.
Ryan More than 1 year ago
22 year old racing fan here, just in case you are going to start a tally. Six seems like a lofty goal though. Nice article. It is refreshing to see someone to put Rachel's career so far in the proper perspective which is as one of or the greatest fillies of all-time. Far too many people are trying to already put her on par with recent champions such as Curlin and it is just nauseating. I would be more than happy to put her in that class as soon as she wins about 5 straight G1's for older horses including the BCC and the DWC. Until then, Ill take your word for her being the best filly of all-time because as I said, Im only 22.
NICK FONTE More than 1 year ago
WHO DID SHE BEAT? YOU DID'T SEE TOO MANY GOOD FILLIES. PERSONAL ENSIGN BEAT GULCH, WHO HAD CLASS. THANK YOU NICK