Saturday, 2 May 2009

Great Oaks to Little Acorns Spells Missed Opportunity for Racing

"Great oaks from little acorns grow" is the phrase the Acorn Stakes have been named after, a reference to the race's status as a prep for the CCA Oaks, which were traditionally considered the real Oaks race of America. According to an article by Paul Moran, that's the road that yesterday's phenomenal Kentucky Oaks victress Rachel Alexandra will take. The race's name thus takes on a different but very symbolic meaning; Rachel Alexandra will go from Oaks glory to a race in which she can't win anything but money.

From there her connections will likely take the route Moran has outlined in an earlier article. They might start her in the Mother Goose, CCA Oaks and Alabama, then run a BC prep against older fillies, then the BC Distaff, where if everything goes right (and it so often doesn't) we may just see a duel against Zenyatta, last year's pampered filly sensation. "What is to be gained, actually, by running her against males?", Moran asks. How about public interest, in and outside the shrinking pond of racing enthusiasts?

Racing insiders and fans frequently bemoan the fact that the mainstream media only focuses on the negative stories that racing creates, but this case shows one aspect that they continue to ignore: racing doesn't produce many positive stories, even when it could.

Realistically, Rachel Alexandra will not always have such tremendous form, such a favorable trip or such favorable conditions, but under any conditions she is superior enough to all other fillies on the East Coast to discourage any meaningful opposition. Unless something goes wrong (a possibility that always exists) one of the greatest fillies in decades will cruise home in the Acorn, then beat virtually no opposition in the Mother Goose, CCA, Alabama and her BC prep.

Do you think any major newspaper will care, or that any TV station would spend hours of Saturday afternoon broadcasting on races about as engaging as "John Kerry Comedy Hour" when they have dozens of other sporting events with more appeal to choose from? You know why that Seabiscuit v War Admiral match race captured the nation? It's because people wondered who would actually win! I doubt we would have seen a movie about it had Seabiscuit run some mid-level claimer into the ground that afternoon at Pimlico. The lure of great sporting events is the lure of a great challenge, not the repeated thrashing of your overmatched opposition, no matter how huge a feat it may be in its own right.

Face it, if Rachel Alexandra wins the schedule outlined above by an average of eight lenghts, the mainstream media won't care. That is unless she gets injured somewhere along the way, in which case she might be a negative story. In both cases, racing loses. Is it really so much asked that a filly that has proven vastly superior to her crop at least tries the Belmont instead of the Acorn and Mother Goose?

"We still don’t know how good she is", trainer Hal Wiggins says. One thing is for certain: they won't find out in the Acorn.

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