Saturday, September 5, 2009

Asiatic Boy's camp 'mans-up' to face Rachel

Considering I was critical of Kiaran McLaughlin and company for considering a trip west this weekend for Asiatic Boy -- to run in Sunday's Pacific Classic at Del Mar rather than face Rachel Alexandra in today's Woodward Stakes at Saratoga -- it's time for me to commend them for sticking around to race the fleet filly.

The nation's top 3-year-old -- and likely its best horse of any age or gender -- Rachel Alexandra drew Post 3 and was installed as the 1-2 favorite for today's Grade 1 event against older males. If Rachel wins, she'll make history as the first female to annex the Woodward, which has been contested since 1954.

Though this is considered a relatively weak year for the older male handicap division, Rachel is facing about as tough a group as one could assemble for an East Coast race.

Once it was learned that Rachel was running in the Woodward (and not in the Alabama against 3-year-old fillies or the Travers Stakes or Pennsylvania Derby against 3-year-old colts), Grade 1 winner Macho Again was brought off the shelf by West Point Thoroughbreds to be part of the action. Grade 1 Whitney H.-upsetter Bullsbay also is in the field, as are G2-winner Cool Coal Man, dethroned Oaklawn H.-G2 winner It's a Bird (who failed a drug screen after that race), 2008 Woodward runner-up Past the Point, and last year's Belmont Stakes surprise Da' Tara, who is still looking to clear his NW3L.

But, along with Macho Again (if the erratic performer shows up with his best), I like Asiatic Boy's chances beyond any of the others to knock Rachel off her win streak.

Granted, he's never won a Grade 1 race, but he's been second in G1 races on three different continents: to Macho Again in the recent Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs; to multiple-champion Curlin in the 2008 Dubai World Cup; and to the fleet Husson in Argentina's Gran Premio Gran Criterium. Asiatic Boy was the 3-year-old champion in the United Arab Emirates -- which is at least a little bit more impressive than being the greatest ice hockey player in all of Ecuador.

Asiatic Boy has found a way to finish ahead of the likes of Well Armed (in the DWC) and Einstein (in the Foster). And unlike the spotty Macho Again (first or second 11 times, off the board in his other eight starts), Asiatic Boy has finished worse than third only three times in 17 lifetime starts, so he brings a pretty good effort to the track every time.

Hence my disappointment when it appeared that McLaughlin, owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, and Asiatic Boy might ship west and duck Rachel.

I'm not saying Asiatic Boy is going to beat Rachel Alexandra today. After all, while he's talented, at age 6 he has never broken through with that huge win that makes him a household name.

But winning today would do just that.

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