Thursday, 21 May 2009

Rachel Alarmista

Quite a few things have happened over the last week here at the corner of Horseplayer Road and Racing Boulevard. Rachel Alexandra proved every bit as good as she looked in the Oaks when winning the Preakness from a strong-challenging non-fluke, catapulting herself into a layer of stardom that reaches the oft-mentioned casual fan, and even achieving that most precious proof of immortality, being photoshopped into a picture with the president on The Daily Show (approx. at the 2:30 mark).

Speaking of political satire and fake stories that make you laugh out loud, we learned that Larry King might find it so easy to avoid obvious hard questions because he has a habit of making up his own reality anyway.

Finally, those who hoped that one filly winning the Preakness would be enough to get some rest from the “fillies-shouldn’t-run-against-colts” debate were seriously disappointed when this one moved right on into either “she shouldn’t be asked to do what we expect of those inferior horses she beat” or “she should be treated as a piece of porcelain and not run ever again”. The latter might be the most stupid opinion on racing I ever read, and that’s against some pretty stiff opposition.

You do realize she’s a racehorse, do you? The class repeats: RACE-HORSE! The word consists of two parts, of which the first, RACE, is referring to racing, which is what racehorses are intended and, theoretically, bred to do. Does anybody suggest that MLB should retire its Rookies-of-the-Year, so we can dabble in memories of Jacoby Ellsbury’s first (full) season on ESPN Classics, instead of watching him actually steal home live on broadcast TV? (To be sure, I’m an Orioles fan, but I do enjoy watching Ellsbury).

Those people who spent the week before the Preakness telling us that fillies are somehow naturally bound to break down when competing against colts (allegedly because they run their heart out against superior opposition, which, I understand, can’t happen in filly races) are now at it to tell us that fillies also can’t run 12 furlongs (as opposed to one-and-a-half miles, the traditional distance for Oaks races). One thing is obvious: should Jackson decide to start his filly in the Belmont (which I would appreciate, provided she is fit), it’s a no-win for him, and for racing. If she wins, she’ll do what was expected of her, if she is injured in any way, the alarmists will pop out of their holes screaming “I told you this race was one too much”, which of course is easy enough to be right about if you predict apocalypse before absolutely every one of her races.

The risk of a horse breaking down or otherwise injuring itself is pretty high in American racing. We all know why (drugs, breeding the infirm to the unraced), and we all should certainly be able to understand that it has nothing to do with the gender of horses a racehorse competes against, nor does it have much to do with the frequency of races. The increasing unsoundness of the American racehorse is a problem that becomes more apparent with every 3yo crop we watch entering the Triple Crown trail, where injury has replaced graded stakes earnings as the main obstacle to enter the Derby gate. It’s a major problem. And it has to finally be addressed in a meaningful way. But not by stopping racehorses from racing.

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