Sunday, November 8, 2009

Will Quid Pro Quo Hurt Rachel?

In US thoroughbred racing there will be an interesting Horse of the Year vote coming up. We all know the two protagonists – Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Who will win? The vote is more than likely pretty close.

As most know, Jess Jackson bought Rachel earlier this year. He raced her in a great many tough tilts, starting with the Preakness and ending her season with the Woodward at Saratoga. All season fans lobbied him hard to race her in the Breeders Cup (hopefully against the undefeated Zenyatta), but Jackson was having none of it. He was not racing her at Santa Anita, and he used something as a crutch that many found curious – horse safety. “My concerns are well known about the tracks in California," Jackson said in a statement. "These false tracks create potential for injury, a risk that I am not willing to take with Rachel."

Funnily enough, last year Mr. Jackson sounded none of these alarms when the decision was made to race Curlin in the Breeders Cup at this exact same racetrack. "I owe it to the horse. Curlin tells us he's fit. He loves to compete," he said.

When Curlin retired not long after that, Mr. Jackson wrote a special piece on the Bloodhorse entitled “Pure Sport”. In the piece Mr. Jackson highlighted this about Curlin: "I especially want to extend my deep gratitude to Curlin’s fans. In the end, we ran Curlin as much or more for the enjoyment and inspiration of the fans and sport than for ourselves. He ran on all surfaces, in all weather, against all competition."

In the very recent past, Mr. Jackson not only listened to the fans, he did everything he could to cement his horses' legacy by racing him in end of year events, regardless of the venue, weather, or competition. Most gave Mr. Jackson a big thumbs up for his sportsmanship, his love of racing and his support of the racing commercial that is the Breeders Cup.

What happened then only a few months later with Rachel and the decision to not go to the Breeders Cup? It seems that same sportsmanship was gone, replaced instead by Shakespearean-type diatribes about unsafe “plastic racetracks”, under the umbrella of horse safety. It appears that she was turned into a political pawn against Santa Anita and the Breeders Cup.

I personally do not have any problem with Mr. Jackson’s choice with Rachel – she's his horse and he can do what he wants with her - but I do have a problem with hypocrisy. I think I am not alone in that. I believe it might cost Rachel some Horse of the Year votes; not because it is right, but because voters can play politics, too. The only thing different is that they won’t be using a horse to get their point across, they will be using a ballot.


webmaster said...

i have no problem with either winning HOY -- and a vote for Zenyatta need not be a referndum on RA or Jackson -- Zenyatta, due to the force of her personality as much as anything, combined with being undefeated and going out as she did -- I think an argument that she is a bit of a special case, a rarity worth honoring, goes a fairly long way.

It's unfortunate that we (at least in my mind) know less about how good Zenyatta really is than we do Rachel, due to her conservative schedule (and thanks to Rachel's aggressive placing and outstanding performances), but, in reality, HOY is really about whatever we want it to be about.

It's a fine problem for racing to have, to have to actually THINK about it before punching the cards this year. Either way, I hope it doesn't devolve into primarily a vote against the other.

Anonymous said...

Both amazing horses did something no other mare or filly has done; but really, how can you not give it to the Zenmaster after THAT performance. She silenced all her critics and beat the best field they could put together. It was the BC Classic for cryin' out loud.

That Blog Guy said...

It may boil down to where the voters are located. The ones that saw Rachel in person may be inclined to vote for her and vice versa with regards to Zenyatta.

This is very similar to the Standardbred polls. Wins in Canada don't seem to count the same as a win in the United States; sort of out of sight out of mind.

Anonymous said...

The Zenyatta crew is running on emotions after 1 race at this point, Sorry its still Horse of the YEAR, thats spelled Y-E-A-R. and It not likely to be close. the dust will settle just like last year. The competition of the fields says it all, I would guess due to the lack of quality in the SoCal circuit.
In 4 races this year Zen faced 2 Grade 1 horses, thats awful. What about that stands out as quality to anyone with the ability to think clearly. We had this same discussion last year and the vote was so lopsided it was embarrasing.

Its about the whole Season, You're right the award is for what the horse did all season. Rachel faced 4 Grade 1 winners in one race, 3 in another and 1 in 3 other races, in comparison Zen faced a number of grade 1 winners in 1 race and faced Cocoa beach, the Rachel campaign was grueling, while Zen beat a couple of good horses, and in one race she faced 0 grade 1 winners or placed horses. That is what you call a cautious cupcake schedule. Lack of quality is what its about, the thinking in SoCal is when there is a 5 horse field and 2 horses are stakes placed in Grade III competition that is stellar quality. Sorry its not, when you run in the East you can face difficult fields all year long, that people is the mark of quality competition. If the 2008 vote didnt help you all to understand that, I am not sure what will.

Example if Zenyatta had ran on the East Coast in races that had some sort of significance, she would have faced, Grade 1 winner – Seventh Street, Acoma, Seattle Smooth, Music Note, Icon Project, Cocoa Beach, Unbridled Belle, Rachel Alexandra, in any or a number of those races, but no they decided to beat let her face her stablemate and the hot and dusty's and Champagne eyes out there in the Upper Tier division of California racing. Thats quite impressive. Right?

Running in the Personal Ensign, Go For Wand, Ruffian, Beldame, Delaware Handicap, Woodward, Pacific Classic, Goodwood, any of those would have been better than tip-toeing through another easy season and finishing up with a nice bang in the Classic. I'll say again like I said in 2008 and maybe Mr. Moss and all of his fans still dont get it but, It Horse of the Year Not Horse of October and November or the Breeders Cup. You dont just get to back into the award, thats why voters had not respect for Zenyatta in 2008, in 2009 there will be more respect but the HOY count wont be close, fans and voters here see the East coast horses knock heads all year long and you have to run hard to win here every time out in Grade 1 fields, not the case in cali, as attested by John Sheriff's comment "if she was running in the L.C. we would just do a maintence breeze".

Anonymous said...

Astute post.

The vote (which almost all the time is political) will be so this year more than ever.

* Synthetic haters will have a say
* Jess Jackson's comments will sway some
* Emotion will play a part

It will be ironic if the Classic is the determining factor, because with a little scheduling, Rachel could have easily been there.


PM said...

Jess Jackson let his ego get in the way. Rachel has run and won on Synthetic. The reason he did not come was either he did not want to lose like he did with a spent Curlin last year, or did not want to face Zenyatta. Its one or the other, not the bogus safety concern he talked about. The track is very safe. But for his behavior he now lost HOY to Zenyatta. Maybe 2010 for Rachel and Jess Jackson.

Erin said...

It was the distance that kept JJ/RA away, as well as the politics

Dave Indiana said...

While I support Zen for HOY in some part because of Jackson's hypocrisy as discussed here, ultimately what might Zen beat for the top prize is the decision NOT to run her on the Derby undercard because the track was sloppy. She was there, ready to go, and simply because of the weather she stayed in the barn. This limited her starts this year and provided fodder for those who knock her for not stepping out of Cali. Well she did leave Cali, was at CD ready to run, but the connections turned it into a waste of time for her.

Anonymous said...

Zenyatta's BCC win ranks better than any single race Rachel won. But, it doesn't weigh heavier than the total races Rachel won. Rachel's foes went on to win more graded stakes than Zenyatta, the common competition (MTB, SB) were beat by larger lengths in Rachel's races, Rachel ran on various tracks in several states while Zenyatta stayed comfortable at home. Rachel is HOY.

Alysse said...

When you intentionally skip out on the championship race for no legitimate reason, you deserve to be left out as Horse of the Year.

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