Thursday, May 28, 2009

As Rachel waits, Derby winner dangles

Here we are, less than a week from the Belmont Stakes draw, with no commitment made from the Rachel Alexandra camp about whether the phenomenal filly will be present for a rematch with Derby winner Mine That Bird, whom she bested in the Preakness.

The Blood-Horse's Steve Haskin muses about why that might be, and speculates -- I think correctly -- that Rachel's connections, including Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable, have to be at least 90 percent certain by now about what they're going to do. But Haskin notes that Jackson has given conflicting signals, including statements that they'd know by last Monday whether Rachel was ready; now we'll know by this coming Monday, which for a mid-week draw and Saturday race is pretty much go-time.

Haskin writes that a decision on Monday is cutting it awfully close, and "leaves the NYRA marketing department up the proverbial creek without a paddle."

There's somebody else Jackson has left in a holding pattern: Mine That Bird.

By now I'm leaning heavily toward the notion that Rachel Alexandra won't run in the Belmont Stakes. My desire for a rematch aside, I think if she were my filly I wouldn't consider it the right spot for her.

Rachel opting out would leave her regular rider, Calvin Borel, free to reclaim the mount aboard Mine That Bird, a job he gave up when both horses were entered in the Preakness. Mike Smith rode Mine That Bird to second in that race, but has taken off the horse to stay out west next weekend and ride Madeo, a Jerry and Ann Moss horse, in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial at Hollywood Park the same afternoon. Mine That Bird's trainer, Bennie Woolley Jr., has decided he'll wait and see whether Borel is available, and that means waiting out Jackson's decision on Rachel's Belmont future. Borel has even worked Woolley's horse in the interim.

I think Jackson might be tickled to make them sweat. After all, Mine That Bird's owner, Mark Allen, stuck Jackson and Co. in the sauna for a day when he, Ahmed Zayat and perhaps others gave serious consideration to blocking Rachel Alexandra from the Preakness by entering enough nominated, but undeserving, colts. All Jackson could do was dab at his brow for hours, until the Derby winner's connections and Zayat publicly changed their minds.

The Belmont-decision delay might just be Jackson's chance at a little turnabout. You made me wait and see whether my horse would run at Pimlico; I'll make you wait and see whether you get your jockey back for Belmont.

If so, that's the stuff good rivalries are made of.

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