Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rachel Alexandra Sold..... Out

In a move threatening to end whatever positive momentum the sport received since the dazzling performance of Rachel Alexandra in the Oaks, Jess Jackson has bought the the filly for a cool $10,000,000 and replaced her trainer with Steve “750-times the permissible limit” Asmussen.

Rachel Alexandra is arguably the best story running in the sport. Out of the first crop by Medaglia D’ Oro, the filly has dazzled fans this year with dominant performances in Louisiana and Arkansas, culminating in one of the greatest efforts in Oaks history at Churchill Downs last weekend. Beyond her freakish ability, a lot of her appeal was tied to the pair of people responsible for her success. Hal Wiggins has been a reputable trainer for decades and is one of the most honest and likable trainers in the sport. This filly in many ways seemed like karma in action, a lifetime achievement award for his service to the breed.

Rider Calvin Borel is arguably the most famous jock in the world these days. With his charismatic personality and brilliant rides resulting in two Derby wins, he is one of the few recognizable riders to a casual sports fan.

It was a match made in horse heaven.

The fact that she was for sale or had buyers interested is no shock. Anyone who’s spent a minute in this business understands the amount of money owners have to put in to purchase, raise and race these horses. It’s not the most profitable business in the world so it’s virtually impossible to pass up selling horses valued at this level. You can’t really blame Rachel’s connections. 10 million for a filly is astronomical; it’s otherworldly. It’s the type of money that you have the filly loaded in the van before the last word of the offer left their mouths. From their perspective, they’ve won the Oaks, established her as a potential great horse and realistically her value could not increase that much more than at present.

So what’s the problem with the deal? Jess Jackson is big on talking about the integrity of the sport. He talks a lot about doing what’s best for the industry and the fans of horse racing. This is a rather curious mantra when your primary trainer has been found guilty of medication infractions (i.e., doping horses) a hearty 22 times. Steve Asmussen has not only had over two dozen violations, he is currently appealing a case that has the potential to have him training from his cell phone for 6 months.

Where is the integrity of stripping the horse from a respected trainer to send her to a crook with a trainer’s license? If Steve Asmussen had as many violations of the law as he has violations in horse racing, he wouldn’t be in jail, he’d be under it. It’s hard to consider the switch of trainer as either motivated by integrity or for the desire of fans.

Lets not forget this pair had juiced their former standout Curlin, before there were any repercussions for administering steroids. (Beyond the moral issue of abusing an animal)

There is another puzzling aspect though. In the high stakes game of horse racing, there can be a great deal of satisfaction in successfully prospecting talent. Whether its identifying a good individual at a yearling sale, or judging the way a horse moves at a 2yo in training sale, there is an art to selecting a good race horse and owners and trainers pride themselves in their ability or intuition in these areas.

In this instance, none of that can be found. She’s an established star. There isn’t any respect to be gained. Credit will go to Wiggins and Co., while Jackson will be seen as nothing more than the man who was willing to pay any sum to purchase her. How much satisfaction can be taken from winning a G1 when you spent 10 million to get it?

Jackson will run around telling the media he is sportsman while patting himself on the back for campaigning the filly. The only thing Jackson can be credited with in this deal is splintering the fillies’ fan base.

Fans are often naive in regards to the business of thoroughbred racing, but it’s hard to argue with them when everywhere you turn the business of racing seems to get in the way of the end product. You can’t help but feel they’ve taken something pure and corrupted it. The filly now represents what many despise about the sport, greed and ego.

She’s now just another asset in an equine portfolio and a reward for a trainer that has made it to the top the wrong way.

It’s a great game.

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