05/01/2010 3:38AM

Slow Boil


This is all getting very complicated. I was told that I could enjoy horse racing without requiring too much math. Andy Beyer would do the figures. I've got Mugsy for the clockings. The tote would calculate my winnings and the valet would find my car. But now, in the wake of Rachel Alexandra's second loss of 2010, we are confronted by the following bizarre equations:

(Rachel x 80%) + 3/4 of a length = Zardana

(Rachel x 90%) + one head = Unrivaled Belle

(Rachel x 100%) +/- X = ??????????

I can never remember if racing is a game of unreasonable expectations or shattering disappointments. They would seem to be related. Rachel Alexandra set a high bar for herself in 2009 when she won the Preakness, the Haskell and the Woodward against males. The fact that she has lost to a pair of talented but unheralded mares in her only appearances of 2010, though, is only cause for alarm if you are among those who thought she was the greatest filly to come along since the Korean War.

Her owner, Jess Jackson, is among the believers, and good for him. Like a proud father -- or the guy who bought an $8 million Picasso -- Jackson has championed Rachel Alexandra in word while the filly tried to keep up in deed. Until this year, she was doing pretty good.

Jackson's words have failed him, though, now that the harsh reality of Thoroughbred unpredictability has smacked Rachel Alexandra square in her gorgeous face. So far this year, trainer Steve Asmussen has asked her to do nothing remotely as difficult as go after a Preakness, or a Woodward, or even a Man o' War, as he did with Jackson's Curlin when they flirted with the turf. The New Orleans Ladies Classic and the La Troienne were solid, reasonable places for Rachel to run. Jackson said she was 80 percent fit for the first one and 90 percent fit for the second. Anyone want to bid 95?

This is coachspeak, a perversion of the racing language that has been adopted by some trainers in the face of a sports media and an ownership class increasingly unfamiliar with the subtle challenges of keeping a racehorse in peak form. I miss the days when horses were either dead short or dead fit. The in between was not calibrated, certainly not in terms of conditioning percentages. Jackson, an attorney who speaks with precision, even when being vague, has latched onto coachspeak big time in an attempt to explain away Rachel Alexandra's struggle.

(Jackson also declared to the media, after Friday's loss, that Rachel Alexandria was sound and a long way from retired. What was the hurry? I like to wait a day before I decide if breakfast sits well. Given Rachel's inability to deal with Unrivaled Belle, and the hard-rolled nature of the Churchill strip, I'd rather let Asmussen lead her out of the stall Saturday morning before sounding all clear.) 

As a reigning Horse of the Year, slow to regain that form, Rachel Alexandra finds herself in good company.One Count, the ultimate champ in 1952, won one of five starts in 1953. Sword Dancer, king of 1959, lost eight of 12 in 1960. In 1983, All Along was all but unbeatable on both sides of the Atlantic, but in 1984 she went 0-for-4. After a brilliant 1986 Horse of the Year campaign, Lady's Secret could win only two inconsequential allowance races the following season. Ferdinand, narrowly voted Horse of the Year in 1987, lost all six starts in 1988.

Affirmed It happens. A Horse of the Year campaign takes a toll. Since 1936, there have been only eight horses to repeat--Challedon, Whirlaway, Kelso, Secretariat, Forego, Affirmed, Cigar and Curlin. Break into that crowd and someone cues the choir. Right now, Rachel Alexandra's role model for her evolution as a 4-year-old needs to be Affirmed, who was Horse of the Year in 1978 when he won the Triple Crown. Affirmed began 1979 with two losses at Santa Anita against horses he should have crushed. His jockey, Steve Cauthen, was summarily replaced by Laffit Pincay, and Affirmed never lost again.

This is not to say a jockey change is the key to Rachel Alexandra's woes. She is not running poorly. She's just getting beat. Calvin Borel seems to be riding to instructions, keeping the lid on Rachel Alexandra early while running with horses at the head of the pack. Her fans would love to see her out there winging, reins dangling, sucking the competition along and wearing them out in pursuit. When she does this, she will be winning again. Of this I am 100 percent certain.

Kevin John Pantera More than 1 year ago
Queen Z will not race in NY, and Rachel will not run on plastic garbage surface in California. Queen Z will stay (barely) undefeated and go in the classic get a mare allowance at CD in Nov. Rachel will take on all comers at the SPA then return to her home track CD and possibly go in the classic. Maybe, maybe not. I hope the horses stay sound and remain as fit as we saw them in their latest outings. The recent Oaklawn park offer of 5million in purse was not enough to eintice a meeting. It would have been nice to see Terry Wallace receive say 1% of that amount in a big fat check in the winners circle for his lifetime of effort at the track. HE DESERVES IT. Nope didn't happen. The trophy he got looked like they bought it at the dollar store!! What a joke in that circle. A perpetual stake race in his name would have been much more fitting. A day where the track GAVE AWAY ITS ENTRY AND concession whereby patrons had a free day of food and drink in his honor would have been more fitting. Maybe a 5 million dollar boost to the overnight purse account at OP would have been a better use of the enticement money at OP; case in point look at the Monmouth meeting. The 5 million was obviously not enough. They are not going to risk their unbeaten status for such a paltry sum. The west has an unbeaten drawing card to protect. So here is one better, one the ghost of PT Barnum would like. Find a rich Patrone who can put up 25 million in purse, just a pittance to the wealthy. Mare against mare, equal weights, classic distance, winner take all. Do I hear match race??? Labor day week-end at SARATOGA. Flip a coin in the infield for the draw. Can you see Borel on the lead and trying to draw away with Mike Smith tracking and then asking Queen Z?? Can you see it, I can!!!Might get 200,000 or more people there for it!!!Timing is right, 5 or 6 weeks left till the classic. No excuses there. Horses are dead fit, no excuses there. Might just be what the industry and the country need right about now a little Seabiscuit affect on us all!!! Just an easy 25 million dollar tune-up for the classic. Pari-mutual betting of course. Like Paul Nueman said in the classic sequel to the Hustler (Color of Money) "Lets clean it up"
Lakotasblaze More than 1 year ago
Enligtening comment Jay about there only being 8 horses since 1936 who have been HOY twice. That clearly show the price it takes on the horse to win the first time and possibly the greed of getting to the breeding shed. It would be interesting to know how many HOTs retired sound and in top condition to compete a 2nd year but did not (of course that does not mean they would have won). I still have this question there is no answer for: Why did they rest Rachel so long if they were planning on racing her this year???? I think think that is the key to the questions about her performance this year. Jay, maybe you could get an Eclipse award for finding out the answer to that!
Lisa Groothedde More than 1 year ago
I have never been more proud of my two consecutive Eclipse votes for Zenyatta as Horse of the Year (2008 & 2009). She had the tougher finale to her 2009 campaign in the unforgettable BC Classic, and has already come back this year to win two Grade 1s with her ears pricked, and while giving her opponents as much as 16 pounds. Rachel in 2010, however? Is winless in a non-graded stakes which was written for her, and now a Grade 2 on a track which Mr. Jackson deemed earlier this week was her "favorite." Rachel Alexandra (11 for 16 overall) was a fantastic 3YO filly, to be sure. But Zenyatta (16 for 16 overall) has always been the superior mare.
dale tillotson More than 1 year ago
I shall no longer criticize calvins thirst for the rail. Congrats to the connections.
dale tillotson More than 1 year ago
And today Calvin wins the race to the rail and the wire in the ninth. AAAARRRRRRRR.
dale tillotson More than 1 year ago
I could not tell by Rachels ride on Friday if Borel was trying to win the race to the dead rail or win the race to the live wire. I guess Borel won the rail race but lost the wire race.