Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rachel Alexandra Has Proved Enough

I must admit that I had a lot of trepidation about new owner Jess Jackson's decision to run his stellar filly, Rachel Alexandra, in the Preakness, with only two weeks' rest after her glorious victory in The Kentucky Oaks.

She was magnificent in victory today, becoming the first filly in 85 years to capture the second leg of the Triple Crown, but she was also exhausted. She certainly didn't look like the same horse whose feet barely touched the ground in her 20-length Kentucky Oaks tour de force. Her jockey, Calvin Borel, knew it, commenting that she "didn't handle the track" in the stretch, so much so that he actually hit her ten or twelve times (not twice, as he initially claimed) to keep her in front of the flinty Mine That Bird, who sped through traffic to nip at her heels at the wire. And so did Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. I don't think Blasi even flashed a smile, as he whisked "Rachel" away from the winner's circle and back to the privacy of her barn. He immediately understood that though the young filly in his care ran a brave race to win the Maryland classic, she also ran a tough one.

While everyone else was celebrating, the people closest to Rachel Alexandra seem to have grasped that she was tested to her limit today. I'm sure they are cringing at the thought of Jess Jackson running her back in The Belmont in three short weeks. And so am I.

After Rags to Riches beat Curlin in The Belmont two years ago, in a gritty stretch battle, she was never the same again. It took every ounce of her strength and heart to persevere against a great Champion.

I pray that Jess Jackson will decide not to squeeze Rachel Alexandra dry by asking her to match Rags to Riches' Belmont performance. If Rachel is managed carefully and conservatively, with an eye toward what is best for her, rather than what her single-minded owner believes is best for racing, Rachel Alexandra will return to thrill us again. For her sake, I hope she gets that chance.