03/13/2010 9:54AM

Time's Up

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Not since Dan Quayle's vice-presidential debate with Lloyd Bentsen has a bar been set so low. Rachel Alexandra may need a race (headline in my paper). Rachel Alexandra will be only 80 percent (quote from Jess Jackson). Rachel Alexandra's return has been compromised by her long layoff, unseasonably wet weather, fluctuations in the Dow Jones. Heck, to hear it, Rachel Alexandra will be lucky to get around out there today in New Orleans without stopping at the half for nap.

3666758599_f09707f5bf This is all hooey, of course, a continuation of the parallel universe of chatter, spin and hyperbole that has surrounded Rachel Alexandra since her victory in the Kentucky Oaks last year and subsequent purchase by Jess Jackson. Weird, though, now that she was officially annointed as the best racehorse in the land for 2009, she suddenly becomes vulnerable, a frail thing beset by circumstances beyond her control.

"I'm very concerned with how fit she is," her trainer, Steve Asmussen, told Bob Fortus of the New Orleans Times Picayune. 

Well, I will drink Jess Jackson's wine, but not the Kool-Aid. The last time I let a trainer sandbag my expectations about the return to competition of a top horse was in the fall of 2000, when Neil Drysdale all but said Fusiachi Pegasus would be lucky not to need a cab ride from the quarter pole to get through his late season comeback in the Jerome at Belmont Park, and I believed every word. All he did was beat El Corredor and Albert the Great under a hand ride.

This is not to question Asmussen's trepidation. The mystery of the Thoroughbred rises with his or her ability. Asmussen and his crew know more about Rachel Alexandra than any lucky bunch in this game, and still they are constantly amazed. They also know that uncertainty is always a piece of the puzzle, and to ignore such feelings is foolish. But, jeez, it's Rachel Alexandra, and if she can't beat this field pulling a plow, how can we trust in such things as gravity, electricity and indoor plumbing?

In the meantime, out in California on one of those funny racetracks that no one seems to like, Zenyatta will be asked to walk her beat while giving away a dozen pounds or more. This would be a concern, if not for the fact that Zenyatta is giving off the same vibes that, say, an aircraft carrier emits when heading out to sea. The only worry about her appearance today in the Santa Margarita is that it all will be over so quickly.

It is almost spring. The clocks are turning forward. Some of the snow is beginning to melt, and racing's two most radiant flowers are about to emerge. It is time to summon the exhortation of the malevolent dwarf from "Twin Peaks" and proclaim: "Let's rock."