Thursday, August 27, 2009

History in the making, and the ducking

You win some, you lose some. And apparently when phenomenal filly Rachel Alexandra is declared a probable for a Grade 1 race never before won by a female, you gain one and might lose one among the older male horses that had been pointed toward the race.

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Rachel Alexandra, revealed on Monday that she would bypass the Travers S.-G1 and a third shot at 3-year-old males in favor of facing those boys' elders in the Woodward S.-G1. Both races are at Saratoga. The Woodward has never been won by a filly or mare.

The announcement spurred West Point Thoroughbreds to point its Grade 1-winning 4-year-old colt, Macho Again, toward the Woodward, as well. He had been training at Churchill Downs since a second place finish in the Whitney H.-G1 and initially was to skip the Woodward in favor of a little extra rest before the Oct. 3 Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 back at Belmont.

That was great news for race fans, some of whom had actually suggested Rachel would be pointed toward a race -- reminder, a race never won by a filly -- as a way of ducking competition. Macho Again would have made the Woodward about as tough a field as Rachel could have been expected to face from this year's handicap division, considering Einstein was already bound for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar to face the best of the West.

But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin might make the opposite choice for his previously Woodward-bound horse.

McLaughlin said he contacted Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, the owner of his 6-year-old Grade 2 winner, Asiatic Boy, about ducking Rachel and crossing the country to race in the Pacific Classic instead of Saratoga's Woodward, to which the horse had previously been pointed.

"I sent an e-mail overseas to talk to the owner and racing officials," McLaughlin told The Blood-Horse, adding that it isn't definite his horse will dodge a meeting with Rachel. The nomination to the Pacific Classic, which is run a day after the Woodward, merely gives Asiatic Boy another option.

"Nobody really wants to face Rachel Alexandra these days," said McLaughlin, which must come as news to the nobodies at West Point, who decided to alter plans and face Rachel rather than lay out of a race that hadn't been on their horse's schedule.

McLaughlin said giving Rachel an eight-pound break -- which she'll receive in the Woodward for being a 3-year-old and a filly -- might just be too much. Calling Rachel "great," a word he says is used too often but is appropriate in her case, McLaughlin flatly said he wanted no part of her. Wherever her principal owner Jess Jackson might send her. Ever.

"She's beat everybody that's gotten in the gate with her this year. Luckily, I haven't gotten in the gate with her and don't look forward to getting in the gate with her with Asiatic Boy," McLaughlin said. "... (S)he's great for the sport, and it's nice that Mr. Jackson chose some of these spots to show how great she is. He said he's hoping to run her next year as a 4-year-old, and that's nice to hear, but I don't look forward to running against her ever, with anything."

That might make perfect sense from a let's-don't-get-our-horse-beat-ever angle. But for McLaughlin to laud Rachel Alexandra as "great for the sport" and applaud Jackson for spotting her against males to prove her worth -- then tell us not to count on him and his horses to be a part of what's "great for the sport" -- leaves me disappointed in a trainer I normally find easy to root for.

I hope the Sheikh and trainer McLaughlin decide to keep Asiatic Boy in the East and face Rachel. If so, good luck to them.

If not, and if Rachel does happen to lose the Woodward, I hope it's Macho Again who proves to have been the man for the job.

Maybe West Point -- which sells and manages racehorse partnerships -- simply sees a Woodward with Rachel as too big a marketing opportunity to miss, win or lose. But winning would be a just reward for seeing history about to be made and choosing to be a part of it by running in, rather than from, the race.


  1. Respectfully, I don't think you're being fair. The goal of the game is to win. If McLaughlin believes she's better than all the horses in his barn, then he's correct not to enter his owners' horses in a race with her.

    Just my opinion.

  2. Then does nobody run? ... Great horse, no opponents?

    And by that, I don't just mean Rachel, but before her time, and in the future.

    Yes, there have been walkovers; Whirlaway's Pimlico Special springs to mind. And Spectacular Bid's Woodward. And certainly there have been very short fields in major races.

    But it sure makes the game less interesting.

    And it's definitely a stark contrast between the connections of one horse was was skipping the race seeing Rachel and deciding to come off the bench and run at her, and the connections of perhaps an equally good horse that was actually pointed to the race being discouraged enough to ship cross-country to avoid her.

  3. Yes! Cow Dancing made the biggest difference in my day - I don't know what I would have done without Dylan to save the day - my metamorphosis into Miss Moo Moo was much needed!!! Thanks!!!


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