Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monmouth Park's 2009 Haskell Invitational

Haskell Invitational Grade 1 August 2, 2009

Its official – as is his customary way Jess Jackson loves to keep everyone on the edge of their seats, awaiting the announcement. Then he steps to the podium, and then comes the announcement:
“Rachel Alexandra is to face colts in the 2009 renewal of the Haskell Invitational”.

The announcement makes for huge ovations and applause in the conference room where the management of Monmouth Park has awaited the announcement.
At this point in her 3 year old season there is really no other decision to make, why you might ask. First, the last two times that Rachel Alexandra has stepped out onto the track against her own gender she has won by a combined 39.5 total combined lengths. For those that don’t know during her stretch of 7 straight victories her margin of victory in these races is 63 ¼ lengths. So the question is who really wants to run against her. Apparently not the connections of Big Drama who have deferred to the West Virginia Derby, not the connections of Papa Clem, and can you believe that even the connections of the great Zenyatta does not want to test the abilities of Rachel Alexandra. Watching the interviews of some of the great trainers of our day, and trying to put Rachel Alexandra’s accomplishments into perspective, there are a number of adjectives that are used to describe her. Beating the likes of Pioneer of the Nile, Mine That Bird, Papa Clem, Musket Man, General Quarters. You can understand why Kieran McLaughlin would call Rachel Alexandra a “Superstar”, he says he at no point wants to have to run against this filly.
I recall the discussion that I had with a man at Oaklawn Park who told me that Stardom Bound would run down Rachel Alexandra, and with all due respect to Stardom Bound’s race record and the wonderful decision to give her some time off from racing to freshen up, I would have to say that Rachel is on a totally different planet compared to the other fillies and mares that are out there training right now. If you listen to Larry Jones you’d get an understanding of how incredibly impressive this filly is.
“Only the Lord knows how fast Rachel Alexandra is,” said Larry Jones, who plans to start Friesan Fire in the Preakness Stakes (G1). “Anytime you have a horse as fast as her, the only chance anyone has to beat her is with the boys. “We chased her earlier this year with two fillies and finished 19 and 11 3/4 lengths behind her, but all of the sudden that didn’t seem so bad after she won the Oaks by 20 [1/4 lengths].”
“I don’t know that we can beat her based on talent or physically, but maybe we can beat her mentally,” said Gary Stute, Papa Clem's trainer. “She’s had a clear run in most of her races, so maybe if she gets pinned inside she won’t like that very much.”
“She may not even know she’s running against boys,” Jones said. “She’ll go to the front and just think there’s a bunch of girls chasing after her.”
What was the result; Rachel Alexandra stormed to a clear length victory in the Preakness which we know is now well documented. But what of the Haskell field, as of right now with the possible defection of Papa Clem and Big Drama, there will be only 6 entrants in this race, thus far. , The Haskell lineup at the moment also includes Belmont winner Summer Bird, Munnings, Atomic Rain, Bunker Hill, and Duke of Mischief.
There will be some speed in the race, and it looks like that could set up perfectly for both Summer Bird and Rachel Alexandra. No one would expect Rachel to have to go to the front unless she is coming from the outside, but that would be in a full field, in a field this small this would most likely be a stalking trip for Rachel. Summer Bird though is an interesting entrant into this race with Monmouth Park known for such tight turns and with the shorter distance here not really being the best for Summer Bird. Summer Bird is known as being a plodder, a steady horse but has never really shown much of a turn of foot which will be needed in this race, but he is training beautifully according to his trainer Tim Ice. "He was perfect again," said trainer Tim Ice, referring to his Sunday morning breeze. "Everything is exactly on schedule. He'll have his final breeze next Sunday. Kent Desormeaux will be here for that." "He was perfect again," said trainer Tim Ice. "Everything is exactly on schedule. He'll have his final breeze next Sunday. Kent Desormeaux will be here for that."
This filly is something special and when you see a filly begin to turn colts and geldings towards a plan B, that’s saying something. She has their respect and they are paying attention to what she is doing. But its not only the boys that are taking notice, looking at the way that the connections of Acoma looked at running against R.A. gave indication that she has everyone’s attention. According to David Carroll he would run Acoma in the Delaware Handicap if the situation was right. He said: "If Rachel goes, we're not going to run.” It says a lot when the connections of a 5 year old mare don’t want to run against a 3 year old filly. But this is not the first time this has happened if you recall this was the interview that Jerry Moss gave on 6.27.2009. Saturday morning, in an interview on the "Down the Stretch" radio show on Sirius XM radio, Jerry Moss, the owner of Zenyatta, said "there's a good chance" Zenyatta would leave Southern California to race this year and that he "would very much like" to see his mare face Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra.
Moss said no decision on Zenyatta's schedule would be made until after trainer John Shirreffs assesses how the mare comes out of Saturday's Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Zenyatta scored her 11th victory in as many career starts in the Vanity. Rachel Alexandra posted her seventh straight victory with a romp in Saturday's Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park.
"Obviously, we take it race to race," Moss said. "[Shirreffs] is going to need a week to see how she's come through this . . . then maybe we'll say something about where our next start will be, and it could be out of the state for certain."
"If the two horses are ready and at the top of their form, I would very much like to see a race between the two of them," Moss said. This was before the running of the Mother Goose, then after seeing both horses run that day Mr. Moss came back on 6.28.2009, and changed his mind. Stating that the detention barns would cause Zenyatta problems just as it did Tiago and Giacomo. Is it really the detention barns that caused these two horses’ issues or the fact that they were not the highest quality of horse?
I would think that in Zenyatta’s case there would be no reason to worry about that due to her being undefeated and of such high quality stock. Hopefully we’ll see these two clash. That is still in the air, as for right now we have one horse working towards a Horse of the Year campaign and another horse working towards Horse of California Campaign, very similar to Lava Man. Stay tuned the Haskell should be exciting.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rachel Alexandra Vs Zenyatta, Just tell me where!!!

In one corner stands the up and coming challenger - Rachel Alexandra - winner of 7 straight by a combined 63 1/4 lengths. Winner of the Fantasy Stakes, the Kentucky Oaks, the Preakness Stakes (A Triple Crown Race) and the winner of the Mother Goose Stakes in devastating fashion. Are there any more superlatives that can be used to describe this filly.

In the other corner stands the Champion - Zenyatta - Ultra consistent, she always makes her run and guess what she always wins, She has won the Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic against a top notch field that included reigning Eclipse award winner Ginger Punch, Grade 1 winners Cocoa Beach, Music Note, Hystericalady and Carriage Trail.

The stage is set, the competitors are warmed up as can be confirmed by their practice rounds in the Mother Goose and the Vanity. So the question is when will this showdown take place. I hate to disappoint everyone but "IT WONT".

The owner of Zenyatta stated that he would wasn't afraid to run Zenyatta against R.A. outside of California during the summer, which would leave plenty of time for Zenyatta to be ready for the Breeders Cup. Well that statement was made on Saturday morning, hours before the running of the Mother Goose at Belmont Park. After watching both competitors do in their weary foes, it looked as if we were primed for the marketing explosion and awaiting the venue and the race that these two great mares would run in. Whoops, it seems as if Jerry Moss watched the replay of the Mother Goose a few too many times. On Tuesday not more than 72 hours after announcing in an article in DRF that he would ship Zenyatta to face Rachel Alexandra, Mr. Moss had a change of heart. I would guess that watching the Mother Goose and the ease of which Rachel Alexandra won that race gave him indication that this would be one horse that his super mare could not catch having to go five wide on the final turn. I must honestly say that I don't blame him. I do find it very cowardice that he would go back on something that could be so instrumental to the well being of horse racing. But every owner has to make his own decision about things of this nature and it seems that the thought process is the preserving of her perfect record is most important to Mr. Moss and the synthetic legacy that Zenyatta will no doubt be labeled with.

When I think back to Zenyatta's 2008 and 2009 campaign, I like most writers and horse racing fans will think back to the four Grade II events that Zenyatta ran in for no apparent reason other than the fact that this was the softest most convenient schedule ever run in by a horse that was considered to be the best mare in racing at the time. Zenyatta's connections have allowed her to be disgraced by running in lesser known grade 2 events against horses that have just barely broken their maidens. Then because of her running style she wins those races not in a romp or convincingly, but by a few lengths. What does this mean for her legacy? Well she'll be known as the champion that beat a number of allowance company and faced very little legitimate competition. And for the naive West Coasters that talk about how she faced such a stellar field in the B.C. Ladies Classic, well she did but on a synthetic surface. A surface a number of these horses had never raced on. So was the playing field even, no by no means.

Lets also talk about the stupidity of the Breeders Cup for first hosting the Breeders Cup dirt races on a Synthetic surface, and then having the nerve to do so two years in a row. The best way to put it, like many out west who try to make excuses for dirt horses running bad out west, CLASSLESS. Listening to message board members who talk about how Curlin was over the top by the Breeders Cup or the same excuse for Ginger Punch. This is ridiculous, and very much shows a lack of knowledge with regard to the game of horse racing. That same excuse can not be used for every dirt horse that struggled last year on the synthetics. Lets run down that list.
Curlin - numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt - 4th in the classic on synthetics. - Career worst
Cocoa Beach numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt 2nd in the L.C.
Music Note-numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt 3rd in the L.C.
Hystericalady -numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt 5th in the L.C.
Ginger Punch -numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt 6th in the L.C. - Career Worst
Fabulous Strike - numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt 5th in the Sprint
Black Seventeen - Grade 1 winner on dirt 7th in the Sprint
First Defence - Grade 1 winner on dirt last in the Sprint - Career Worst
Munnings - Graded stakes winner ran 10th in the Juvi
Mine That Bird - Kentucky Derby Winner Ran dead last - Career Worst
Be Smart - Graded placed - Career Worst
Doremifasollatido - Graded stakes winner on dirt - career worst
Pyro Graded stakes winner on dirt - career worst
Lewis Michael - Grade 1 winner on dirt - career worst
Indian Blessing - numerous Grade 1 wins on dirt - had never fired on synthetics.
Intangaroo - Grade 1 winner on dirt
Dearest Trickski Graded Stakes placed
Dream Rush Graded Stakes placed

So this is the list, I would love to hear the excuses that the west coasters can make for the
18 horses on this list that were all over the top or whatever excuse you'd like to use. Please ask Bob Baffert to verify the reason why Indian Blessing will not run on the west coast for the rest of her career. Well this would give indication that synthetic surfaces play differently than dirt and the difference between dirt and synthetics horses is large. So the nonsense that is spoken by some about Jess Jackson's decision to skip the Breeders Cup is not going to be the first announcement of this nature. This can be expected more and more as we get closer to the running of the Breeders Cup. Attendance will be down and the handle at the track will be down, all things that I personally could care less about due to the fact that the Breeders Cup and California has disgraced horse racing by taking a championship such as the Breeders Cup and put it on a synthetic surface. Could you imagine the Kentucky Derby on a synthetic surface, NO, not possible because it is a dirt race and has been for hundreds of years. People don't understand what tradition means. This does not mean changing something that has been in place for years on a whim.

Back to the match up that will not happen. Lets look at the thoughts of some who realize the truth behind the balking of the connections of Zenyatta. Some just plain and simple want to see Zenyatta challenged, not by horses that have run in optional claiming races, or allowance races or even Grade III events. Something has to be done to allow her to prove her greatness because as of right now that is in question. When you continue to beat up on the same horses continually and not impressively let me point out, that means that either you are afraid your horse will lose to decent competition or you just don't care about the legacy that she will be remembered for. If you look at the resume of Pepper's Pride 19 for 19 she was impressive because she beat horses that were of comparable quality. Therefore she towered over these, Zenyatta is beating horses that no doubt are no where close to her ability. This would mean you step up and actually face some competition. Zenyatta due to her connections handling of her will not be known with Personal Ensign, Zarkava, Azeri, Indian Blessing, Eight Belles or Rachel Alexandra or many other outstanding fillies or mares. Why because these stepped outside their comfort zones because their connections felt that they were the very best and wanted to challenge that theory. The Moss's know that Zenyatta can beat inferior fields on synthetics and they are happy doing that, if that's how they feel then let that be, but please don't start the talk about Horse of the Year. Right now Rachel Alexandra, Mine That Bird, Einstein, Well Armed, Precious Passion. All of these horse have more right to Horse of the Year honors, with R.A. being at the top of the list due to her impressive wins in the most prestigious of races that are being run at this time. Does Zenyatta's race record match up with a Grade II Milady and Grade I Vanity win. Not even close. Do her connections seem to care. It seems as if they don't and I understand that but I don't understand why they would be afraid to face a 3 year old up and coming star in Rachel Alexandra. Show that you have confidence in your charge and let this match up happen.

Is zenyatta overrated, absolutely not, she is a very good race mare. Will she be able to show her true greatness, unlikely, she will always be remembered as the horse that faced and beat very little whose connections were petty and classless and begged for HOY votes.

Here's to the connections of Rachel Alexandra for allowing us to see the greatest thing running today, and campaigning her as if they want her to win Horse Of The Year. Kudos Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen. Thumbs down to the connections of Zenyatta for being cowards and hiding out west. Thumbs down to the West Coast lovers who get to watch lower tier horse racing and connections. Now we all understand why the state of horse racing is as it is out West.