The Brock Talk

Monday, March 15, 2010

When Rachel Speaks, Asmussen Listens

Now that we know that 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will not be going to Oaklawn Park to meet the undefeated Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Invitational, our retrospect allows us to confirm what some have suspected all along. Rachel Alexandra seems to have very much enjoyed her vacation and is taking her own sweet time in coming back. And apparently principal owner Jess Jackson is living true to his word that he "will let Rachel Alexandra tells us when she's ready."

Even back in early February, when the $5 million Rachel v. Zenyatta Apple Blossom was on for April 3, a few days later Jackson announced in a press release the race was off. Asmussen was quoted in that release as saying "Getting to this level of fitness after a six-month layoff takes time."

A short time later, the race was back on - this time, scheduled 6 days later on April 9.

Caution Flag!

Even going back to the post Eclipse Award ceremonies when Jackson talked with TVG about Rachel Alexandra's return and awkwardly talked about her first "untimed" work in 17 seconds. I knew a valet in Prescott that could do that in a gunny sack.

But looking at it now, it was probably Rachel Alexandra just not being overly excited about being back at work after six months. We've all been there trying to get back in the swing of things after a holiday.

I suspect on a cold and damp January morning at the Fair Grounds, exercise rider Dominic Terry motioned to Rachel that they were going for a nice easy work. And Rachel responded something like, "uhhh. Yeah! Like a real easy work. Hello?" Hence, the "untimed" work.

Caution Flag.

But like the professional that she is, Rachel soon picked up the pace and we began to see glimpses of her greatness in subsequent morning efforts. All of them were right on schedule and each one more impressive than the last.

But even then, Asmussen was saying in February that “I thought she looked beautiful. She went :50 3/5 today off of her :52 the other day. I think that’s pretty much the progression that we’re expecting.” While in the next breath he was saying they would "do what’s right by her.”

Caution Flag.

Then the loss Saturday to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. On paper, Zardana appeared to be a horse Rachel Alexandra could outrun easily. Even with Asmussen facing the difficult challenge of "not tightening the screws" on Rachel's machine until the Apple Blossom, Zardana seemed to be a mismatch.

By Sunday afternoon, the Race for the Ages was off.

It could not have been an easy decision for Jackson either - not with the every fan, media member, horse racing facebooker and tweeter clamoring for it. But somewhere inside the final eighth of a mile in the Ladies, Rachel Alexandra said "Nyet."

My teeth gnashed as much as the next person's. But there are a few things to understand before we all begin to complain, strut, point, and or discount the Horse of the Year vote.

Nobody would have wanted a sub-par Apple Blossom. Even the biggest Zenyatta fans (of which I am one) would have experienced an empty victory if a less than prime Rachel Alexandra would have shown up in Hot Springs, Ark.

That was never going to happen. I know the entire Asmussen family enough to know they all speak English, Spanish and French. I've never heard any of them speak equine, but I've seen 'em understand it.

So if Rachel is saying "slow down just a little," I'm glad Asmussen is there to understand it and Jackson is there to listen.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. It's pretty aggravating to listen to people who have no contact with the horse to second guess everything about her. She's a top-flight filly, and of course they are going to do right by her. Let's stop all the negative and do right by the horse, as they are obviously doing!

In2Books said...

Amen! Personally, I'd like to see her retire now (there's no shame in 2nd places), and quickly go to visit Curlin in the breeding shed. A 2013 2 yr. old by Curlin, out of Rachel Alexander would be phenomenal...much more so then a mare/filly standoff.

Let's FB and Tweet about the new foal, watching webcams of that entire event unfold over risking her racing any further. Besides, we women all know that having babies while we're young and fit is much better for producing a healthy too with animals! ;o)

joani said...

Good job, Brock. This is worthy of being passed around a bit.

Brock Sheridan said...

Feel free to pass it on as you like and thanks for the comments.

Luvbarbaro said...

I did pass your blog around, there were a couple comments that definitely put a smile on my face. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet on Rachel's 4yr old career. She's too phenomenal to let one race and a few flags, put her in the breeding shed with the great Curlin.

Anonymous said...

I love Rachel just as much as the next Rachel lover, but I would like to see her retired. Shouldn't race her if she doesn't want to run and let her have a great life.

Nancy said...

When Calvin asked her to dig in down the stretch, she did and tried but didn't have enough left in the tank. There were no signs that she's not interested in racing, so retirement IMO would be premature.

She was short and Asmussen knew she would be. Turns out she's shorter than they'd thought so that just means give her time to get conditioned and fit. A handful of works in 35 days is not enough time nor enough works. Taking a step back and withdrawing from the AB was brilliant. She's not ready and I hope they continue with her scheduled work next Monday, I'd love to see Rachel racing this year.