05/26/2016 2:26PM

Hovdey: Rachel, Zenyatta fans kept behind Hall's wall


Two steps forward and one back, or one forward and two back. That seems forever to be the pace at which Thoroughbred racing makes its progress through the contemporary culture, whether measured by the ephemeral metrics of social media or the hard numbers represented by fans in the stands and dollars online.

Two horses died on the Preakness program, and another was lost later in the day at Santa Anita Park. There is no way to spin such bad news. They did not die for a good cause. They have not gone to a better place. When such terrible things happen, the only reaction is to double down on the necessary preventatives – prerace inspections, track condition, drug testing – and concede the round to PETA. Exaggerator could have won by the length of the stretch, but as far as the wider world was concerned, the day belonged to San Onofre, Pramedya, and Homeboykris.

Two forward, one back. Horse racing deserved a rousing thumbs up recently for electing both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to the Hall of Fame in the same year. Though they only met on the field of public opinion, history will never be so foolish as to choose between them. Rachel gave the game four incomparable months, and Zenyatta held court for three solid years. Their simultaneous Hall of Fame induction promised to be the high point of the summer, not to mention the target of a massive fan pilgrimage.

But now, as it turns out, fans are not welcome, except via their electronic video device of choice. According to an announcement this week from the keepers of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, demand has been so great for access to the 2016 Hall of Fame induction ceremony that admission to the 568-seat Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will be highly restricted.

“There will be no charge for the tickets” states the news release, which is true, except not really. To get a maximum of two tickets to the event, you must be a museum member (as opposed to a museum exhibit). Memberships begin at $50, which is hardly the definition of “free.”

A Hall of Fame spokesman noted that alternative venues with greater seating capacity were considered, but nothing suitable was available. When such sites were first considered is a question since it has been a foregone conclusion for, oh, about five years that Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were going to be inducted in 2016, their first year of eligibility. The reaction from fans should not have been a shocker.

As a privately run and funded operation with no official ties to the racing industry, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame gets to do anything it pleases in the presentation of its product. Still, the Hall of Fame concept in any sport is an aphrodisiac to fans, and it is the smart Hall of Fame that cultivates such passion with care.

There are thousands of people who came to Thoroughbred racing because of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, and they cling to it still. Telling them there’s no room at the inn to witness the ascension of their heroes to the Hall of Fame is tone-deaf, shortsighted, and just plain sad.

Come one and all, however, to Gold Rush Day at Santa Anita on Saturday. There’s plenty of room to wander the grounds, consume mass quantities of California cuisine, and play any combination of the 11 races on the card.

The Gold Rush players will find out if the spectacular maiden-race winner Enola Gray is the second coming of Melair in the $200,000 Melair Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Gold Rush Dancer and Tough It Out – the West’s version of Exaggerator and Nyquist – will continue their rivalry in the $200,000 Snow Chief, going 1 1/8 miles on grass.

Smoove It has got the class to win the $150,000 Fran’s Valentine at a mile on turf but lacks the recent form, while Kent Desormeaux will try to work some of his Preakness magic aboard the 8-year-old Soi Phet in the $150,000 Tiznow at a flat mile on the main.

The first running of the $100,000 Lennyfrommalibu Stakes is the first race on the Gold Rush card and drew only five runners. This is a surprise because the downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita is meat and potatoes for a broad base of older runners out West, Cal-breds or otherwise. The field is topped by Forest Chatter and Mike Smith, who have won five of these downhillers together, including the California Flag last October. It was California Flag who broke Lennyfrommalibu’s course record.

Lennyfrommalibu was a popular son of Unusual Heat who raced in the early oughts and specialized at 6 1/2 furlongs down the Santa Anita hill. He won six times for his breeder, California Horse Racing Board commissioner Madeline Auerbach, and earned more than $440,000.

More to the point, though, it was Lennyfrommalibu who inspired Auerbach to delve into the world of Thoroughbred retirement programs and eventually form the California Retirement Management Account, which serves as a centralized fundraising organization in support of accredited retirement facilities. CARMA was also the model upon which the national mission of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was established.

Lennyfrommalibu is 17 now, living the good life among fellow retirees at Tranquility Farm near the Northern California town of Cottonwood. And every step he takes is a good one.