A Seat in the Bleachers: Woodward likely spot for Rachel

The guess — and hope — here is that Rachel Alexandra runs in the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 5. It

Some people are getting a little uptight.

And antsy.

Amy Kearns of Stonestreet Stables, who has the thankless job of keeping things ship-shape at all times around Steve Asmussen’s barn so Rachel Alexandra’s stall doesn’t get stormed by the Preakness and Haskell winner’s adoring public, was informed by a woman this week that she had just ruined her daughter’s life.

The affront? Kearns told them they couldn’t take their picture with Rachel. That might seem like a simple request, but allow it for one person, and everybody is enabled. They’re running a thoroughbred stable over there, not a petting zoo.

Meanwhile, everyone is wondering when and where Rachel is going to run next. Her Monday workouts have been increasingly big media events each week, and if she doesn’t race at Saratoga Race Course in the next two weeks, there will be more than a little bit of grumbling.

On Friday, the New York Racing Association announced that TVG and Betfair, Ltd. had pumped $400,000 into the purse for the Beldame at Belmont Park, making the purse for the Grade I race a cool million, with the idea that it might entice owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs to bring their undef­eated mare, Zenyatta, to New York to face Rachel.

Taking all the circumstances into consideration, NYRA COO Hal Handel rated the possibility of the big Zenyatta-Rachel Beldame bombshell actually happening at 25 percent.

And what a spectacle that would be. But if you think it’s a done deal, I’ve got a racetrack on Union Avenue to sell you.

Shirreffs has said he doesn’t want to bring Zenyatta to New York, the only state that requires race horses to spend at least six hours in a holding barn to prevent the sneaky last-minute administ­ration of performance-enhancing substances.

One checkmark on NYRA’s side, though, is that both camps have to be thinking about a potential Horse of the Year award, and will likely manage the schedule accordingly in the next three months. Even if it doesn’t make sense for the Zen­yatta people to bring their star to a state where her chances of winning could be compromised by the detention barn, their hand could be forced if (when) Rachel wins her next start, no matter where it is.

Then Zenyatta is really playing catchup, and a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Ladies Classic might not be enough to get her over the hump.

Stonestreet owner Jess Jackson has been pretty consistently clear that he won’t take Rachel to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup and run on the same synthetic surface on which Curlin finished fourth in the BC last year.

And he probably doesn’t need to, if she wins her next start. In an expanded version of Let’s Make A Deal, the Woodward is behind door No. 1, the Travers is behind door No. 2, the Personal Ensign is behind door No. 3 and the Pennsylvania Derby is behind door No. 4.

The guess — and hope — here is that Rachel runs in the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 5.

It’s the same distance as the Beldame and should be sufficiently spaced on the calendar, assuming Jackson has a desire to run in the Beldame (hello, 60 percent winner’s share of $1 million).

She’s untested at the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Travers, Personal Ensign and $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, the mile-and-three-sixteenths Preakness notwithstanding.

In terms of resume- and legacy-building, the Woodward also makes sense because she’d be facing older horses for the first time. She could fulfill that criterion in the Personal Ensign, of course, but I believe the distance consideration carries more weight.

Rachel would certainly gain something by winning the Travers, but she’s already beaten Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, so whatever she gains wouldn’t be much of anything new, other than being able to say she beat Quality Road.

The Kensei factor tends to get lost in the Zenyatta-Rachel discussion a little bit.

Rachel’s stablemate will be breezing on Monday, too, and if he looks like a serious Travers horse, then Rachel would no longer be a Travers horse. I don’t think Jess Jackson will run her next Saturday, anyway, and a strong work by Kensei could cement that decision.

So we don’t know anything, really, except that we’re supposed to learn something, but not everything, on Monday.

Here’s one racetracker’s prediction: Rachel runs in the Woodward and the Beldame, but never faces Zenyatta, which would deny racing an absolute mother lode of interest from the general public.

I love both horses, but Rachel appears to hold the cards right now.

Amy Kearns ordered a bunch of bright, crisp “Restricted Area” signs that have established a perimeter around Asmussen’s barn at the Oklahoma training track.

It’s Rachel Alexandra’s world, and we’re welcome to it.

On her terms, of course.

Categories: Sports

Leave a Reply