Haskin's Belmont report: The Waiting Game
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 5/27/2009 3:05:20 PM
Last Updated: 5/29/2009 10:46:36 AM

Rachel Alexandra worked Monday at Churchill, but her Belmont status has not yet been announced.
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

And so the racing world waits anxiously for Jess Jackson to announce his decision regarding Rachel Alexandra’s Belmont Stakes status. Notice it says announce his decision, not waits for him to decide.

 

Based on Jackson’s comments, most people believe he has already decided, or at least is 90% sure what he’s going to do. But because his comments have been vague to say the least, there is no way to tell exactly what is going through his head and precisely on what he’s basing his decision.

 

The person with the most to gain or lose obviously is Calvin Borel. He is fortunate that Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley is doing the right thing by waiting, in order to give Borel every opportunity to get back on the horse and to give himself every opportunity to obtain the services of the jockey who rode his gelding to a 6 3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Derby. So, that waiting game is beneficial to both trainer and rider.

 

But should this really be happening? Sometimes you can’t help but encounter choppy waters at times during the Triple Crown, but can anyone recall the amount of turbulence we’ve seen this year?

 

In this instance, you have a jockey who will either ride the Kentucky Derby winner, the Preakness winner, or nobody.

 

Jackson at first said a decision on Rachel would be made after her workout this past Monday. Obviously, not much was learned from her little half-mile spin on a sloppy, sealed track. No one even knows what they were hoping to learn from that breeze. Following the work, Jackson changed his mind and said he wouldn’t make a decision until the following Monday after the filly works again.

 

Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley, who was to have named a rider this past Monday, decided he would wait as well. And why not? Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird in the Preakness, is riding Madeo in the grade I Whittingham at Hollywood Park the same day. Two of the most sought after riders, Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez, avoided getting swept up in Hurricane Rachel by immediately securing other mounts. That left either Borel or who knows who to ride Mine That Bird. So, Woolley’s decision to wait is understandable.

 

All this has brought up several questions. Is Jackson really still undecided about the Belmont, and if he is, why? After 10 days, shouldn’t you have a pretty good idea what to do? If your filly came out of the race in great shape, as Jackson claims, and you’re still wrestling with the decision after this long, maybe you should just forget it and wait for the Mother Goose and let Borel ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont. You need to have confidence running any horse in a race as arduous as the Belmont, and if Jackson and Asmussen don’t have that confidence yet after seeing her work, are they going to have it on Monday?

 

What are Jackson and Asmussen hoping to learn in the next work that they don’t already know? Because Jackson has been unclear, only he and Asmussen know what the specific thought process is. Jackson has pretty much said Rachel will decide what they do. He also said, “She thinks she can run through a brick wall.” That sounds pretty decisive on her part. We at least know where she stands.

 

Jackson added, “We have to pull her back, because she wants to run.” Can they pull her back in one week? If so, how far do you really want to pull her back? If she wants to run through a brick wall and they don’t want her to, then just say, "We want to run in the Belmont as long as we can get her in the right frame of mind, and we'll have a better idea of that after her next work." There's nothing wrong with saying that. The key words are "want to." If they can't say those words by now, then they shouldn't run.

 

Here is a sampling of other quotes from Jackson as appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

 

“She’s progressing…she’s recovering nicely…she’s right on course for being in top shape…there is a component of her legacy (there’s that word again we heard so often last year with Curlin)…she’s so special, you think of her as a great champion…we’re still considering the Belmont.”

 

On the other hand, “She’ll tell us when she’s ready, and it might not be as soon as you would want…we have to monitor her and make sure we preserve her because she’s so special… it’s not necessary for her to go in the Belmont… we have to be more conservative and cautious about her…you don't want to push her past her limits; that's the concern we have with the Belmont.”

Sounds like two different trains of thought. When it was inferred that his quotes seemed to indicate he was leaning against running, Jackson said. “I’m not going to put a probability on it.”


And then there was Jackson’s comment regarding Borel:

 

“I told him he could have her for the year if he stays with her, so we'd have to look at that opportunity as well. Calvin is in business. I think he’d be pleased to ride either one financially. I think his heart is with the filly, though, but I'm not sure.”

 

He’s not sure? Borel gave up the mount on a Kentucky Derby winner, who won by 6 3/4 lengths, to ride his filly. That’s about as sure as you can get.

 

If Jackson really has no idea what he’s going to do and is waiting for next Monday for some sign either way, that’s cutting it pretty close regarding travel plans, and leaves the NYRA marketing department up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

 

The bottom line is, no one outside camp Rachel really knows what the waiting is all about. We really don’t know if Jackson wants to run in the Belmont or not. He hasn’t said. If he does, he can say so, and if Rachel shows signs she’s not ready, he can act accordingly. If he doesn’t, he can say that, and we can all move on and begin to concentrate on who is running.

 

Jackson has shown he is a sportsman, ambitiously pointing Curlin to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and then sending him to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, despite insisting all year he did not want to run him on a synthetic surface. It certainly appears he did it for the good of the sport and for the fans who wanted to see a showdown between Curlin and Big Brown. When Big Brown got hurt and was retired, Jackson remained on course for the Classic, giving the event a much-needed star attraction who was well-known in mainstream America.

 

This is a lot simpler. Just forget all the opaque comments and tell us what you’re really thinking and what specifically is going to determine whether Rachel runs or not. You don’t owe anyone anything regarding the decision other than that. Just do what you and Asmussen feel is right for the filly. That’s all that is important.

 

 



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