Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jess Jackson: 'Guardian of the Galaxy'

With his usual dose of European horse racing pragmatism, Malcer has weighed in from well on the far side of the pond about the way Jess Jackson is yanking the chain of the American sports media and turf fans, potentially to the detriment of the sport.

Spurred by dueling commentaries from Claire Novak at (who thinks Jackson is displaying a lack of sportsmanship by being so vague about his plans for top filly Rachel Alexandra) and Ed DeRosa (who defends Jackson from Novak on his Big Event Blog), my blogging friend in Germany nails shut the case in favor of Novak right from his headline.

At his blog "The Dresden File," Malcer cautions Mr. Jackson that, "The World Isn't Waiting."

From a global sports perspective, he couldn't be more correct.

Sure, the racing world waits with bated breath to know where Rachel Alexandra is racing next. And "Guardians of the Galaxy" devotees take polls on what's the most interesting upcoming storyline: Adam Warock & the Universal Church of Truth or maybe Rise of the Badoon as a major stellar empire.

Nobody else gives a flying fig.

DeRosa writes from the perspective of a horse racing addict (a monkey that rides both our backs) who knew darned good and well that Rachel Alexandra wasn't running in today's Alabama S.-G1 against fellow 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. He points to her workout patterns under trainer Steve Asmussen, which indicate she wasn't on the brink of a start.

"John Scheinman of the NYRA press office and trainer Mark Hennig both noticed that," DeRosa writes, "so it's not like deciphering Asmussen's motives required possession of the Rosetta Stone or an advanced degree in reading tea leaves."

No, and I didn't even need that much information to write off the Alabama as her next start. Be it sportsmanship or ego, Jess Jackson's appetite isn't sufficiently fed by watching his filly crush a field of four by 20 lengths, the likely result of an Alabama that included Rachel. (As it is, the Alabama today features eight entries, only one of which is at longer odds than 8/1 in the morning line.) He wants to fry bigger fish, and he wants more of them on the stringer.

I suspect Claire Novak, who has followed racing since childhood and has reported/commented on it for quite some time now, didn't exactly need a lightning bolt from the sky to strike her with the foreknowledge that Rachel wasn't running today, either.

Not so with the rest of the sports media. The non-turf guys and gals. The people with press passes to the Kentucky Derby but who don't know why it's even called "turf writing" when most of the races are on dirt anyway.

For racing to stop being a boutique or niche attraction -- the "Guardians of the Galaxy" of the sports world, only understood and appreciated by the sort of fan who never misses an issue -- the general sports media needs a little spoon-feeding. Jess Jackson is doing that after a fashion, but his evasive, noncommittal statements leave reporters not really knowing what the spoon holds on any given day until it's in their mouths. Could be chicken soup. Could be huitlacoche.

Eventually, only the die-hard turf media are waiting in line every day for another taste. The other sports reporters have scurried off to baseball, hot dogs and apple pie, or at least to NASCAR and a fried bologna burger.

Granted, I knew Rachel Alexandra wouldn't be in today's Alabama Stakes. Ed DeRosa knew it. Claire Novak probably knew it, even without "waiting for the overnight" as she mentions at

So why can't Jess Jackson just flippin' say so, two or three or five days in advance. And he can, but he doesn't want to. We're all just too amusing as playthings.

"It's fun to have the speculation," Jackson told the Albany Times-Union.

Fun for him, sure. Fun for some of us, maybe, though Claire Novak is no longer giggling. And it is not good for racing as a general-consumption sport.

The longer Jackson waits to commit, the shorter time any given facility will have to promote Rachel's upcoming appearance. That is not such a big deal at Saratoga -- potential site of three out of Rachel's four remaining "races under consideration" -- but it would become a huge concern for Philadelphia Park should Team Rachel opt for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby-G2 on Sept. 7. A good problem to have, I suppose; better than running without Rachel. But you'd like to have some lead-time to prepare for an overflow crowd and to put on the best possible show.

More important, casual race fans and the general sports media -- which is largely bereft of even casual race fans these days -- get bored quickly with Jackson's little game of "no news makes good news."

So I'll spare us all the drama -- Rachel Alexandra isn't running in the Pennsylvania Derby. Hardly likely, anyway, unless Jess Jackson wants to make me in particular look the fool.

Whatever Jess Jackson wants next, it awaits him at the Spa.

If Jackson -- who doesn't need the money but has bellyached about purses anyway -- desires a $1 million pot, it's there for his filly in the Travers S.-G1 against 3-year-old colts and geldings next Saturday, and at a new distance for Rachel; 10 furlongs.

A shot at older fillies and mares? The Personal Ensign-G1 is the very next day and also at Rachel's untested distance of a mile and a quarter, albeit for much less money.

Really wanna prove Rachel's mettle in historic fashion? Run her against the older males in the Woodward S.-G1 at 9 furlongs on Sept. 5. No filly or mare has ever won the race. So what if the $500,000 purse is barely walking around money for a man with $1.8 billion?

I think it's down to the Travers or the Woodward. I'm not sure the Personal Ensign is enough of a test, for either Rachel or her mercurial owner. But body-slamming the 3-year-old colt/gelding division by sweeping the best of three falls would be quite a feat. And emasculating the older male handicap division in the Woodward gives Rachel a piece of racing history even more rare than her victory in the Preakness, which no filly had won since Nellie Morse in 1924.

Maybe strategy somehow plays into this game of hide-and-seek that Jackson is playing. But I don't really see how. Wherever Rachel shows up, she'll have to race whomever else is entered, and she'll still be one of the favorites. And even if Jackson is trying to ensure a better field -- that is, to dupe the Rachel-dodgers into racing his filly against their collective will by being the last to commit -- there's nothing to stop an entire field from scratching-out on race day if their connections really don't want to run against her.

So, DeRosa's valid suggestion that we as fans and media lack patience notwithstanding, once Rachel crushed colts in the Haskell there never really was any good reason for Jackson and Team Rachel to be playing five races against one another as if they're all somehow on equal footing.

Perhaps Jackson is trying to fashion himself as a latter-day Tom Smith. The great Seabiscuit's trainer played games with the clockers and media, even using a look-alike horse named Grog to hide his star horse's true workouts. And the conditioner was notoriously short on information, to the point of being nicknamed "Silent Tom."

Whatever his motivation, it's clearly working to the satisfaction of Jess Jackson, the individual. Not so much, I'm afraid, for a publicity-starved sport that could stand to have the connections of its biggest star in a quarter-century be a little more accommodating with the general sports media and fans.

Because, as "The Dresden File" states, the rest of the sports world just isn't going to sit around and wait for Rachel Alexandra news. They've got better things to do. Like counting sheep.

And we'll have to try and wake them long enough to watch whichever race it is, once Mr. Jackson makes up his mind.


  1. As usual, you say it better and much less confrontational than I could.

    In my defense, my writing has been schooled in the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of East German club soccer (Dresdner SC), where differences between writers and subjects are solved by (mostly verbal, luckily) bouts of bitch-slapping and a subsequent "peace pilsner" in the stadium pub (sometimes with BBQ, never with Cuitlacoche). My articles were actually considered "pacifist" there.

    I agree Jackson won't choose the Pa Derby. The more I think of it, he may actually think that all this speculation is creating "buzz" for racing, but what's that good for if the race itself ends up being off-TV again?

  2. Funny ... I was about to go back over to your blog and note that your writing is much more succinct.

    I think you could be right that Jess Jackson believes that Rachel's indefinite course creates a buzz for racing. But it's entirely an internal buzz. Everybody on the outside is ignoring the whole thing until there's news about where she's running again.

    And, something I didn't find a way to work in above, an interesting point in my mind is that when Jackson *is* decisive, the stories about his horse still have legs. He states in no uncertain terms that Rachel Alexandra will not run in the Breeders' Cup, yet people keep pondering whether he'll change his mind and pontificating about whether that choice is right or wrong, good sport or bad.

    If he'd just pick a race -- or even two, say, "We'll decide about five days out whether it's the Travers or waiting for the Woodward" -- then the sports world could be specifically abuzz about his horse, rather than cluelessly abuzz, if at all.

    Frankly, if he'd make a choice, then the greater sports media would both announce that choice and start airing periodic stories on whether she can beat the young colts again, or whether the step up to older males is too great, etc.

    As it is, SportsCenter, et. al, will go for days and weeks without being given anything from the Rachel camp to even care about.

    See, you were once again twice as succinct.

  3. So was the Woodward worth the wait?

    I think the response following her win from various media outlets has vindicated my position.

  4. Her race was great.

    Are you asking if the fact that she ran well (when hasn't she?) vindicates the smoke and mirrors handling of the media prior? No. Why would it?

    It would have been good to know when she was running beforehand. Maybe then it wouldn't have been on only horse racing-specific TV channels and MSG-Plus (or whatever that network is).

    Granted, there was a lot of college football on. And the U.S. Open. But it's sad that I have quite a few cable channels at the office and the race was airing on none of them.


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