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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rachel Risk/Reward Don't Add Up

I find it heartening in a way that there was such revulsion over the little brouhaha over Rachel Alexandra last weekend (though still puzzling over the spectacle of the nation's turf writers and bloggers falling all over themselves to come up with the most venomous depiction of an event that I thought was tacky at the very worst). There was some thought after Eight Belles last year that we wouldn't again see a filly in a triple crown race for quite some time; a notion enforced by the defensive shell into which the industry retreated. So I'm glad that's not the case, because there's no reason why it should be.

However, at the same time, for an industry which is largely based on the fundamentals of risk/reward, I feel as if this hasn't been fully thought out. Personally, if I were the Maryland Jockey Club, my call to Ahmed Zayat would have been to see how I could help keep the filly out.

Because what exactly is the potential reward here? I think it's relatively limited - maybe a few thousand extra ZZ Top fans in the infield, a point or two in the ratings? And unless you really believe that this filly, coming back in two weeks off a career top using any sheets or figs and starting from the 13 post, is going to run so fast and far ahead of these colts that she does so straight into the hearts and minds of unsuspecting civilians everywhere and helps to revive a moribund game, then that's really it, at least in my opinion. Hey, it's possible of course. But what are the odds that her winning will do any more for the game than did Rags to Riches' Belmont?

But the risk - and I don't need to be more specific - is literally limitless. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this industry is toast if something goes wrong. Unlike in the matter of Eight Belles, in which accusations of greed, ego, and recklessness were unfounded, here they would be right on. Under the utmost care of trainer Hal Wiggins, this filly was trained and raced specifically to peak in the Kentucky Oaks, which she did to cap off a compact four-race sequence with a subsequent layoff in mind. Now instead, she switches to corporate ownership and a factory stable, and finds herself running against colts two weeks later, her fifth race in 13 weeks. I think this is madness; just completely unnecessary, impulsive, and short-sighted on the part of everyone involved. In the words of Paul Moran, somebody call PETA. With all due respect guys, I just don't get it. I mean, just one year after the disaster of Eight Belles and the paralysis that still grips the industry, why would you want us to be in this position with relatively so little to gain?

So we all better hope that she arrives home safe and sound. And I'll be more than fine if she runs so spectacularly that you're all writing in to call me an idiot on Sunday. But I won't be rooting for her to win. I'll be hoping - and wagering - that she gets her prissy butt whupped....and good.


Anonymous said...


7. SL Green bid $200m - contains most conditions, based on the 7 bids.

Amateurcapper said...

Remove the immediate concerns for RACHEL and believe that she's every bit as special on the track as advertised...what about the long-term effects on G.1 quality dirt fillies? Consider the progeny records of Kentucky Derby-winning fillies WINNING COLORS and GENUINE RISK?

WINNING COLORS: best of nine foals was a G.3 placed Japanese filly

GENUINE RISK: only produced two live foals, neither raced.

Toss in G.1 Haskell S. winner SERENA'S SONG:
Best were G.2 winners GRAND REWARD and HARLINGTON (both stand at Hill n' Dale).

With this history, you'd think Jess Jackson would be very leery to run his new purchase vs. the boys, off just two weeks' rest.

Turf-raced, G.1 quality dams seem more likely to produce high quality offspring, but even then it's a risky proposition compared to the quality race mares that failed in their second careers.

KINGMAMBO (G.1 x 3, sired 9 Classic winners on 3 continents)
MIESQUE'S SON (G.3, G.1 placed x 2, sire of BC Mile winner MIESQUE'S APPROVAL)
EAST OF THE MOON (G.1 x 3, producer)
MINGUN (G.3, sire - 2y.o.'s of '09)

GALILEO (3y.o. Champion - Eng./ Ire.)
BLACK SAM BELLAMY (G.1 x 2, full bro to GALILEO, sire)
SEA THE STARS ('09 2000 Guineas winner, 3-for-4)
ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL (G.1 placed, broodmare)

TOUSSAUD won only a G.2 vs. the boys but this turf-loving distaffer may be the Blue Hen of Blue Hens in the U.S.:

Among famous turf distaffers to fail in the breeding shed:

DiscreetPicks said...

Respectfully disagree. Regardless of the change in ownership, i don't think that Rachel has any less business running back in two weeks than any of the colts in the race. And despite coming off a career-best performance, it certainly didn't look to me like she was put to any undue stress in the Oaks. I mean, she simply galloped home through the stretch without Borel so much as moving on her. You can argue about the class-jump or the supposedly bad post-draw (i happen to think it's rather favorable given her running style, and take note that nobody complains about drawing the 13-hole in the Derby), but it's not like Rachel is the only horse in the race who has a question or two to answer.

Frankly, what's bugging me more than anything is that i had a Derby future on Rachel Alexandra @ 125/1, she skips the Derby, and now she's running in the Preakness. That's just wrong.

Superfecta said...

I'd say it adds a lot - I wouldn't be going if she weren't in the race (even though I'd have preferred to wait and see her in the Belmont) and I'm already a fan of the sport. That must be adding about $40 to the handle right there!

But I do find it interesting there's been no outcry over the two-week turnaround for, say, Friesan Fire, given how public his connections were about him grabbing a quarter and getting reasonably banged up in the Derby (and that's not even going into who they are).

Anonymous said...

Completely with you on this one.

All this pro RA media hype is hypocritical, dont want to see any of them complaining in a Farvian* manner on Saturday night if, god forbid, something should happen to the filly.

*Reference above is to the media's universal approval when the Jets acquired Brett Farve, then universal criticism of the move when he flopped in the stretch.

onecalicocat said...

You are so right, Alan.
At a more basic level, Rachel Alexandra may have trouble acclimating to new surroundings and new people.
She may be great but she's been taken out of her comfort zone. I think that may count for something.
I think one of the Derby runner-ups has the best chances this time around.

robin said...

You are mixing up too many factors. The scheme to keep her out was unsportsmanlike, period. Her safety is another issue with its own guidelines. Her chances of winning yet another factor. They all make up the game, but they cannot be weighed against each other. Each one is independent. The factors of course must coexist, but there is no greatest goal of "promoting the sport," except perhaps by writers whose highest priority is to have something to write about. ;-)

robin said...

You are weighing factors against each other when you should not. RA's safety is one area of concern. Unsportsmanlike gate packing is unsportsmanlike conduct, and is independent of horse safety (except if the packed horses are dangerously unskilled at racing). RA's chances of winning is another factor. These three (and other) factors must coexist, but they do not need to be weighed against each other to achieve what is in "the best interest of the game." they are competing factors, sometimes, and complementary at other times. that's the way it goes. there is no ultimate "interest of the game," there are many, depending on who you ask. is it measured by number of fatalities, horse and jockey? by betting handle? by number of races run? by track profitability? by public awareness? by number of PETA demonstrations? everybody has a different way to measure the health of the game. by trying to weigh one factor against another, you are assuming that there is one ultimate measure, and there is not. Even though you might feel as though you are journalistically immune from bias, YOUR measure of the "interest of the game" is just one among many.

El Angelo said...

Would it be possible for someone to give Rick Reilly a brain? He calls Rachel Alexandra the fastest horse and the best filly in the world. Neither is close to true.

Anonymous said...

I am so upset that RA was taken from Wiggins. I won't be betting or watching this Preakness.

I'd much rather see some entity discipline Assmussen like Ramirez. Unfortunately, I really doubt any meaningful clean-up of the drugs and thugs will ever happen.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should be worried about Mine That Bird in the Preakness, Rachel is much bigger than he is.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say the "industry is toast" if Rachael was to break down. That strikes me as hyperbole. But of course it wouldn't be good.

And to that last dude, size has nothing to do with frailty. However, given Mine That Bird's sire line, there is cause for concern in terms of how long he will stay sound. -JP from SD.

Anonymous said...

she is not even close to the best filly in the world? well then who is the mythical beast that is?

Valerie said...

Regarding Amateurcapper’s list of G1 quality dirt fillies (and I assume you meant those running against males), admittedly Genuine Risk, Winning Colors and Serena’s Song are disappointing thus far, but how about?:

Whitney Handicap winner Personal Ensign produced G1 winners Miner’s Mark and Traditionally, as well as multiple-graded winners Our Emblem (dam of War Emblem), Salute and My Flag.

Affectionately won against the boys at ages 4 (Vosburgh) and 5 (Toboggan); she produced Personality (Wood Memorial, Preakness, and Jim Dandy winner).

Hollywood Gold Cup winner Two Lea produced stakes winners Pied d’Or, On-and-On (broodmare sire of Alydar), and the great Tim Tam.

There are plenty of examples of quality mares who didn’t leave anything on the track—that’s a myth.

Teresa said...

And the great Searching produced Affectionately.

We could probably go on...

alan said...

>>We could probably go on..

I'm sure we could. But regardless, I think Amateurcapper's point is well-taken, and that Jess Jackson displayed some naivety with his notion that Curlin plus Rachel will lead to Superhorse.

Teresa said...

I saw Amateur Capper as making a different point--not about Rachel Alexandra and Curlin, but "about the long-term effects on G.1 quality dirt fillies? Consider the progeny records of Kentucky Derby-winning fillies WINNING COLORS and GENUINE RISK?"

The implication seemed to be that GI campaigns against males have some sort of adverse effect on mares' breeding...and the evidence is to the contrary.

But maybe I misunderstood.

Anonymous said...

qoute:Our Emblem (dam of War Emblem)

maybe that's whats wrong with war emblem! jk lol

El Angelo said...

I think he's got it backwards. Genuine Risk wasn't unsuccessful in the breeding shed because she ran against the boys; more probably, it was elevated testosterone or other hormones that made her competitive against faster males but made her barren.

ThoroughbredZone.Com said...

Who cares if you are not rooting for her? What an inane statement. Sad commentary on more than one level.

alan said...

>>But maybe I misunderstood.

Teresa - No, you're right, forget that last comment. I got distracted at work and sent it off before fully articulating what I wanted to say, which is (and I hope this isn't too inane):

Yes, you and Valerie could certainly name more such mares that were successful, and I suppose we could up with more that weren't too. But I think that Amateurcapper makes the point that there have been enough documented failures to make it, as he put it, a 'risky proposition,' and enough so to make Mr. Jackson's stated intention to breed a super horse nothing more than wishful thinking.

Valerie said...

With all due respect, three examples are not statistically significant enough to classify it a "risky proposition." Show me the science that says G1 quality dirt fillies don't produce quality offspring. How many mares in general (raced or unraced) fail to produce quality offspring, period? A bunch.

That said, I agree Jackson is dreaming when he claims breeding Rachel to Curlin will produce a superhorse, as undoubtedly there are far more factors at play (including whether or not Curlin himself has "the right stuff", so to speak, when it comes to breeding). A lot of very good horses, including the great Secretariat, were disappointments at stud, at least in producing lots of quality male runners (with all due respect to Risen Star and General Assembly). Ironic, isn't it, that Secretariat's most important progeny were ultimately his daughters: Terlingua, Lady's Secret, and Weekend Surprise.

In an ideal world, we humans wouldn't be arguing as to whether or not a filly should be running based on prejudicial biases—we would be grateful that the Preakness includes the best 3-year-olds able to race this day, without concern for gender. Her times this spring have been on par or surpassed those of her male competitors. So what’s the real issue?

Amateurcapper said...


You all were correct...I was saying that dirt racing vs. boys was the cause. I know nothing about GENUINE RISK and steroids but that's certainly a possibility that can only be confirmed with a call to Leroy Jolley.

ALAN...great point about Jackson thinking CURLIN+RACHEL=SUPERHORSE. What were the last two champion parents to produce a top-notch race horse?

What I do know is that CURLIN raced with steroids in his 2007 HOY campaign. Jess Jackson has admitted to it (

Last year he was off them and ran a superb race in the World Cup. Sadly and predictably, he was brought back to the races too soon. He was never the same despite gutting out G.1 wins at CD and Sar vs. horses that still had allowance conditions.

In hindsight, is CURLIN sans steroids as appealing an animal? He was shinny at two and who knows how he would have performed had he raced sans performance enhancing medication. Would you pay big bucks to breed to him?

alan said...

>.In an ideal world, we humans wouldn't be arguing as to whether or not a filly should be running based on prejudicial biases

Valerie - With all due respect, I have a problem with this idea that there is some kind of gender bias involving horses. We're not talking about women's rights issues here. Fillies and mares have never been denied the right to vote (well, of course they have, but you know what I mean), been the victims of unequal pay, been denied the freedom of reproductive choice, been denied education or forced to wear burkhas. They're just dumb, stupid animals, and there are good reasons, which I won't go into here, why they are generally segregated from male horses in races. Rachel Alexandra should not be running because she was pointed specifically towards a certain race, peaked in that race by design, and now, instead of having the break that was intended all along, is suddenly having a complete change of course, running off short rest after a career-best effort against animals who are, whatever you think of this particular male crop, far better and more battle-tested than anything she's been facing, period. I've never been opposed to fillies facing colts, and I think I've been clear on that. But I would feel this way about any horse of any gender or sexual preference being put in the same position in the name of nothing more than greed and ego, without considering the welfare of the horse one iota.

Anonymous said...

Jackson motivation may in part be to create a self imagined super horse (Curly Alexandra?), but whethar you believe the produce of such a mating will be any more or less likely to succeed on track is irrelevant.

He is not looking forward to the betterment of the breed but rather his return on investment. Those first few foals will sell quite handsomely long before any of us find out whethar they can run a lick.

Charley Miller said...

For the sheer sake of the drama Rachel has brought to the Preakness, it's worth it for the sake of the sport. Horse racing has been mainstream this week. That's what matters, and that reward counters the risk. Here's to hoping we see a duel between the little horse that did, and the femme fatale.

Jen R said...

What exactly is the physiological mechanism you propose to explain why racing on dirt against males would affect a mare's reproductive performance?

Serena's Song "only" had two Grade 2 winners? How many graded stakes winners do most mares produce?

I think what you're seeing is just confirmation bias. There are plenty of high-quality male racehorses who flop at stud too, as well as mares who raced only against other females.