Derby dodge doesn't suit queen 'Rachel'
Could she have become first filly to wear racing's Crown? We'll never know
Rachel Alexandra thundered over the finish line at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, and I'm pretty sure this thought was rattling around the skulls of just about everyone who has been waiting for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978:
What were Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer thinking when they insisted on entering one of the greatest fillies in history in the Kentucky Oaks instead of the Kentucky Derby? And what kind of name is Dolphus, anyway?
Well, maybe not everyone was thinking that, since most people have never heard of Morrison and Lauffer, but that's exactly my point.
They probably would be on their way to becoming household names right now had they not been philosophically opposed to pitting Rachel Alexandra against male competition. If they had entered the filly in the Derby and won - and then she had breezed through Baltimore the way she did - they would be lounging on the couch with Oprah and sharing gourmet coffee with Regis and Kelly during the pre-race buildup for the Belmont Stakes.
Instead, they chose the Oaks - which was run at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby - and the filly won by 20 1/4 lengths, which was the widest margin of victory in that race in the 100 years they have been keeping track of that sort of thing. It's hard to argue with that kind of success, but it's also hard to believe they passed up the opportunity to win the Triple Crown because of some misguided sense of equine chauvinism.
"I don't think the man wanted her to run with the colts," said jockey Calvin Borel, who has ridden her in six races and won every time. "I heard it all along."
Borel obviously didn't share that opinion. He was so convinced that Rachel Alexandra was a "once-in-a-lifetime" horse that he ditched his opportunity to go for the Triple Crown aboard Mine That Bird to get back on the filly for the Preakness. The Derby winner came within a length of making him regret that decision Saturday, but Borel insisted that the outcome was never in doubt and his opinion of both horses has not changed.
In light of all that, you might think Borel would have made an attempt to convince the previous owners that the horse was capable of making history as the first filly to win all three Triple Crown races. And you would be wrong.
"No, sir, I don't ever do that," he said. "I don't tell the owners what to do with the horses. They pay the bills and raise them and everything. If they might ask me, I might give them my opinion. I thought all along that she could run with the boys. I wasn't approached."
The issue would never have come up if Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick had not purchased Rachel Alexandra soon after the Oaks and taken a more enlightened approach to the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Jackson, who won the Preakness with Curlin a couple of years ago and may be better known to casual race fans as the founder of the Kendall-Jackson Winery, had no gender-related reluctance to enter the horse in the Preakness.
"Gender doesn't matter," he said. "A thoroughbred wants to run. If a filly is as good as a colt, they ought to compete. That was my position and that's why we came."
Gloria Steinem could not have said it better, but before we take this game of "what if" too far, it's only fair to point out that Jackson said after the race that the previous owners made the right decision.
"Let me add something there," Jackson said. "I would have done what the previous owner did, too. I would have kept her out of the Derby. That's a cavalry charge. Twenty horses. You know what happens. Everybody trying to get around the first turn. You make or break the race right there, and if you're blocked from then on, a good horse couldn't become a champion or be able to demonstrate that in that race. I wouldn't have put her in there."
And we all would have thought the same thing after Saturday's victory in the Preakness.
What was he thinking?
by Peter Schmuck
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