05/10/2009 7:04PM

Unsportsmanlike Conduct


A despicable and perhaps short-lived scheme to bump Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness, by entering unqualified colts in the race, has tarnished what should have been one of the most positive and exciting days in recent American racing history.

Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, said in an HRTV interview Sunday morning that he had been contacted by Mine That Bird co-owner Mark Allen, and that the two men had agreed they would each enter a colt in an attempt to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the race. The filly can not run if 14 original Triple Crown nominees are entered for the race because such nominees get preference over a supplemental nominee such as Rachel Alexandra.

(There is a side issue of where this is precisely spelled out in the conditions for the Preakness, since the condition book for the race refers only to horses being "properly" nominated, not "originally" nominated. It wouldn't be shocking if onetime attorney Jess Jackson, who bought Rachel Alexandra earlier this week, mounts a legal challenge and this Preakness Week ends up in a flurry of courtroom maneuvers if the filly is excluded.)

Zayat said later in the day he had changed his mind after being contacted by industry officials, and would not enter any of his 21 other Triple Crown nominees. Reports stemming from Zayat's earlier remarks, suggesting that Marylou Whitney was going to enter a horse in the Preakness to bump the filly out and supposedly aid Mine That Bird (a son of Whitney's runner Birdstone) were contradicted tonight by her husband, John Hendrickson. He said any Whitney runners would be withdrawn if there was a chance they would block Rachel Alexandra from running.  No word yet on whether Allen still intends to enter the maiden colt in which he has an ownership interest. [Update: Allen told The New York Times Sunday night he had changed his mind and would not enter the 0-for-9 Indy Express in the Preakness.]

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The damage, however, has been done. The very idea that the owners of the first two finishers in the Kentucky Derby would hatch a plan to keep a feared rival out of the Preakness, especially by using overmatched horses as pawns, may technically be within the rules but is a stunning act of unsportsmanlike conduct.