Thoroughbred racing needed this. Really, it did.
It’s been a tough couple of years for the battered-and-bruised sport of kings and finally — finally — in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes filly Rachel Alexandra provided the feel-good story the industry needs to sell racing to mainstream America.
Every year during the 3-year-old classics, industry insiders promote some promising young colt as the next big thing. But not only has no horse won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, but in 2006 — and again in 2008 — prominent horses were seriously injured on national television during classic races.
Sadly, the injures suffered by Barbaro in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and by Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby led to their deaths. And racing people spent months trying to articulate to the press the dangers of racing horses without being accused of animal cruelty.
Then on Saturday, along came Rachel Alexandra. She beat America’s best colts after some owners schemed against her Preakness entry and some horseplayers thought she couldn’t get the job done. In doing so, she became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years.
The wheels were set in motion on May 1 when she romped home in the Kentucky Oaks by 20-1/4 lengths. Current owner Jess Jackson saw the race on TV and two weeks ago paid $10 million for Rachel Alexandra and pointed her to the Preakness Stakes amid much criticism.
But Jackson is a sportsman who relishes a challenge. America yearns for greatness and this filly appears to be the real deal.
In the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra broke from the far outside post #13 and shot straight to the lead. However, Big Drama in post position #1 also ran early and floated Rachel Alexandra out four paths wide on the first turn.
Using the filly’s speed early turned out to be another masterful decision by jockey Calvin Borel, who was the same rider that scooted Mine That Bird up the rail to take the Kentucky Derby from far off the pace.
“I had to let her go,” Borel told the Washington Post. “If I didn’t do that, I’m going to get hung eight or nine [horses] wide.”
Rachel Alexandra, who Borel said did not seem to like the Pimlico surface, took over the lead on the backstretch and never gave it up. At the top of the lane, she was ahead by three lengths, but Mine That Bird, with new jockey Mike Smith aboard, came surging at the wire. However, Mine That Bird’s rally fell a length short.
With the hype that came along with Rachel Alexandra’s huge Oaks victory, the betting public made her the 9-to-5 Preakness favorite, almost expecting to see a tremendous performance. And they were not disappointed.
Personally, I could not wager on her at less than 2-to-1. But then again, I don’t think I’d bet on Secretariat if he was that low either. Hey, you’ve got to have rules in this game or you’ll go broke quickly. Right?
Instead, on this site, I wagered $200 on #3 Musket Man at 11/1, #7 Papa Clem at 14/1 and #9 Pioneer of the Nile at 6/1. Then I bet another $100 on Take the Points at 18/1. The best finisher was Musket Man who missed by 1-1/2 lengths while placing third.
So, now Thoroughbred racing has something genuine to sell America. But just imagine how sweet it would have been if Rachel Alexandra had won the Derby and a filly was going for the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 6.
Now, that really would have been a captivating story.