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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Feeling Macho

I've personally witnessed many dramatic finishes in stakes races in my day. However, those instances in which those final desperate lunges were of true historical significance are singular moments that are few and far between. The Belmont Stakes of 1978, 1998 and 2007 come to mind; Forego's championship-clinching rally to nip Honest Pleasure in the 1976 Marlboro Cup is another. Rachel Alexandra's desperate win in the Woodward is a worthy addition to that list.

But what I think I'll remember most about the race is the roar of the crowd of 31,717 as the filly strained to hold off her pursuer. We were standing behind the clubhouse seats around the eighth pole, managing to catch a glimpse of the action as they went by. From that point, attention turned to the TV screens, and the crescendo grew from there. Women and men, old and young alike all around us were shouting, screaming, absolutely pleading, begging, imploring her to make it home. It was as loud and urgent a cry as I've ever heard at a racetrack. I'm sure it got the attention of any spirits, be they human or equine, who make their home in the rafters of the historic track these days.

I was amongst those who wasn't expecting a least not in the sense of it being a competitive race. I was surely wrong when I said it wouldn't be worth the trip, as it turned out. So, what's the explanation for the close finish? Did she bounce? Has her arduous campaign finally caught up to her? Was it the result of a difficult trip (and if so, was it one which could have been avoided)? Or did people like myself simply underrate her opposition; putting more importance in Beyer figures than physiology?

The obvious question about Borel's ride is why he would get involved in a pace duel with a horse like Da'Tara. There was concern before the race that the boys could gang up on her with speed from the outside and force her to the front. But Da'Tara?? He broke from the rail, and was not expected to be an early factor. (He ended up being eased for the second race in a row....can Maggie Moss please buy this one for $5000 before someone gets hurt?) I'm really not much for second guessing these guys riding 1,000 pound animals, but why wouldn't he just let that horse go on; doesn't he read the Form? It seemed as if he had a chance on the turn to take back, tuck in, and let Pass the Point do the dirty business up front.

However, I think that Borel rides this horse the same way every time - with a cocky swagger that's gonna get them beat one of these days. Just as he was 3-4 wide pressing a quick pace in the Haskell, or head and head from the outside with Big Drama in the Preakness, he rode his filly as if she just can't lose, showing that he just doesn't need to care about trivialities like lost ground or fast pace.

And the fact is that she's run almost identical races in the three she's won against males, at least in my view. A big deal has been made of how fast she ran early on Saturday; but her opening fractions of 22.85 and 46.41 are not much quicker than those in the Haskell (22.99 and 46.43); and remember she was three wide on the first turn that day. Her three-quarter split of 1:10.54 was actually her slowest since the Preakness.

And once again, it was on the final turn for home where I believe she separates herself from the rest. For others, the drive for home has already begun by then; but Rachel Alexandra is always well within herself at that point. Once again, Borel was just cruising here; while Prado was full-out on the hapless Pass the Point. She disposed of him with a mere flick. The home stretch is the point at which thoroughbreds running on dirt start to slow up, this remarkable filly included. But for her, the earnest running has just begun, and when she re-breaks coming out of the turn, it's usually enough to open up an insurmountable lead.

This time though, she had less margin for error. Macho Again, a horse which I've admittedly totally disrespected to this point, trailed early, and had to run three sub-24 second quarters just to reach contention; including a third quarter split of 23 flat as the filly was loping along. However, helped in part by a ground-saving ride by Albarado, Macho Again was able to sustain his rally and give the crowd the yips in the closing yards, getting the last furlong in 12.49 (as opposed to 12.81 for the winner), and earning a Beyer figure of 109 that one should take with a grain of salt considering that it was the only two-turn dirt race of the day. Nice guess, Beyer boys....though that figure ain't worth the paper it's written on as far as I'm concerned.

In any event, I'm going to say that Rachel Alexandra ran her usual race, and give this colt full credit for the effort. I'm not going to make the same mistake of underestimating him again. In fact, given his record, another Grade 1 win for him, and he could crack that top 1,015 of all time! Whatsmore, given the subsequent achievements of some of the horses who have lost to the filly, I expect a huge effort from him next time, no matter where he runs.

- Here's a clip from the paddock before the race. You may recall that I criticized NYRA when Rachel Alexandra made a truncated trip around the walking ring at Belmont, thus disappointing many of the fans who had been lured to the track specifically to see her. This time, they made a complete extra loop, so as to give all of the many fans assembled around the paddock a chance to see the star of the day. So, nice to see that somebody listens to me!! (Now, if I can only get my wife to do so....)



ballyfager said...


You compare the splits at Mth & Sar but don't allow for the fact that Mth is unquestionably a faster track.

I think even the Beyer poseurs would acknowledge that the fractions in the Woodward were too fast.

The silver lining to Borel's ride is that it allowed us to see how exceptional she is. She simply refused to lose.

Anonymous said...

Does Borel get involved up front because he thinks he'd have to fight her to keep from getting sucked up?
Part of me says he's riding her like she's the best. Let them come, let them try, if they ever best her then lets look at how we change tactics in the next...
But part of me wonders whether he thinks he'd compromise her race if he tries to do too much jockey stick handling.
So with the heat now dutifully turned up on her legend, I think the jock might end up being in "just don't screw it up mode". Let's say she races again and they hook her again. What to do? Race the same way and win or lose, you can fall back on, "We did the same thing we've done in the past and she just didn't have it today... such a long campaign, that fresh horse was just too much at this point in the season, we-told-you-we-didn't-like-the-poly etc. etc."
But if he pulls her back or does anything out of lock step with how he's pilotted her before... It'll be pin the tail on the Cajun and I'd think Borel doesn't want that.
From the comments about the pace from Asmussen et al, they didn't like the speed duel either, but the interesting question is whether they thought he should have/could have held her back. I did not hear any comments afterward that said they were mildly upset and would have preferred a stalking trip and that the Macho man would have been bested by a length if they had...
When you win, I don't think you go over the coulda shoulda's as much as when you lose...

Let's say they they hoover up the poly at SA and install temporary dirt.... What would the paddock instruction to Borel be?

Nice problems to have....

Anonymous said...

I have not seen it mentioned anywhere, the fact that Rachel threw the rider on the track and clearly was not usual composed self, so it is possible she was rank and therefore made the lead.

Perhaps she wins by five if she was herself, and if the extra walk around the ring was the reason she was rank well I doubt you will see her do that again.

alan said...

>>I have not seen it mentioned anywhere, the fact that Rachel threw the rider on the track and clearly was not usual composed self, so it is possible she was rank and therefore made the lead.

Wow, in all of the excitement, I completely forgot about that incident. Excellent point, thanks.

El Angelo said...

How about the finish of the 2001 Breeders Cup Classic in that mix of great finishes too, given the context?

Anonymous said...

Asmussen wasn't happy with her pre-race preparation either. From

“I was most concerned of any of the races we’ve been in. I thought [there was] a crucial period of time two weeks ago, the weather didn’t cooperate, it wasn’t exactly ideal. A lot of muddy tracks, concern about the work -- we brought her over and worked on the main track instead of Oklahoma like we were wanting to. There were variables we hadn’t faced in her previous races. It was a challenge for her.”

Anonymous said...

And Alan, if she lost we could blame it on you since they did the second lap around the walking ring to appease your complaints ;-)

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that Borel's ride was crazy. If Rachel gets beat there in the final strides we are having a much diff. discussion today. As Ballyfager points out, it's also crazy to compare fractional times of Monmouth Park to Saratoga. Monmouth Park is simply a much faster race course.

o_crunk said...

A funny thing about RA throwing Borel before the race. I was standing up the apron, directly in front of them when that happened. In the moment that preceded it, Borel was goofing off with the crowd, saluting...the usual ham samwich BS. Boom. Borel's off. Crowd sigh. Was like she was telling Borel to wake the eff up.

I was surprised he kept her somewhat around the older boys in the pre-race warmup, too.

It was a winning ride, eventhough the first quarter had me thinking otherwise during the race.

I'd want her wide, on or very near the lead. That's the best shot. Get trapped by bigger, older horses, a little dirt in her face and maybe they look her in the eye and she backs down.

They were going to race ride her anyway...pick your poison and I'll take up front in that particular situation.

Might not be as crazy to compare MTH to SAR these days. IMHO, the clocks up in SAR were a little abnormally fast this year and in recent years in general. Don't have any data to back that up just an observation. Take for instance QR taking down a 50 year old track record by a full second.

Topher said...

I was at the paddock too, on the rail right across from the ring where they saddle the #3 horse. I believe you're incorrect about her taking two laps around the paddock. She was saddled in the stall at the back of the paddock, then brought out towards the tree where the #3 horse would usually be saddled, from that point they kept walking and joined the procession out of the paddock which does take the horses through the rest of the ring, they did not make another trip around though.

Anonymous said...

PS, I am very, very, tired of Calvin's antics. Sure the connections are too, we'll see if he gets the ride next season.

Calvin, it's the horse, stupid.

forego is my witness said...

Calvin was whippin' the bejeszuz out of her into the home stretch. Did you see his whiphand whappin' her side the last twenty strides?? THAT bothered me a LOT. I mean, yes, she got up there, she won, she was clearly the best out of that crew. But my Lord, with those early fractions, RA should NEVER had to have been worked that hard to win. You're right--he's been riding her the same way each and every time, and one of these days, it's gonna get her beat when it shouldn't. I hope that's her last race of the year.

ljk said...

I agree with Topher, RA's trip around the paddock was routine, nothing extra.

I also agree with El Angelo. I was at both races and as exciting as RAs win was, I still put the 2001 BC Classic a notch above for crowd response. It was the circumstances.

The crowd noise at the Woodward was easily the loudest I've ever heard at Saratoga though.

Imagine if RA had gotten loose in the post parade...

Teresa said...

Alan's right about the paddock--for the first time this summer, horses went past me twice...I took photographs from inside the paddock, and the entire field circled twice. Someone from NYRA told me before the race that that's what they were going to do. They did not mention whether they did so because of Alan's Mother Goose post. =)

alan said...

Thanks Teresa, I was starting to wonder if I had hallucinated that!

Anonymous said...

A number of you have mentioned not seeing references to the filly's unseating Borel in the post parade. I do believe that if you had checked John Pricci's same-day report on the horseraceinsider site you would have seen it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a definate classic and glad I was on hand to witness it. The race was much like Holy Bull's Travers win and the crowd had the Smarty Jones feel to it where everyone was rooting for Rachel.
It's to bad that NYRA isolates Durkin during the race call because the crowd noise was the loudest I have ever heard in my 30 years of attending Saratoga. Why they do this I don't know, maybe something to do with MSG. It's unfortunate.