Owners Reverse Course on Attempted Preakness Blockade of Rachel Alexandra

134th Preakness StakesSunday was a busy day in the world of horse racing. Particularly, for those with this year’s Preakness Stakes in mind. The 3 year old filly sensation, Rachel Alexandra breezed through a half mile workout at Churchill Downs in a sharp 48.40 seconds, under exercise rider Dominic Terry. It was a workout her new conditioner, Steve Asmussen, called “beautiful.” The move was the 13th fastest of 81 works at the distance.

Rachel Alexandra“She’s a beautiful filly. I think she’s doing extremely well. Every sight of her has been impressive and I’m just very happy to get this light move in this morning under very good conditions.”

Rachel Alexandra (left) was transferred from the care of trainer Hal Wiggins to Asmussen when the filly was purchased for an undisclosed price early last week by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Farm, and Harold McCormick. Jackson had indicated that the filly would be made a supplemental entry to the Preakness if she continued to do well in her new barn. But Asmussen said a decision on Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness bid had yet to be made.

“That’s Mr. Jackson’s discretion – whatever timetable he wants to be on,” said Asmussen. “We’re just very fortunate to have her in our care and we’ll just communicate what we think we’re seeing. The filly has proven what a tremendous mare she is. Mr. Wiggins has done a remarkable job with an amazing filly and we’re just very fortunate to be around her.”

Shortly after the workout, owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Farm declared the Kentucky Oaks winner primed for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. It was all the evidence Jackson needed to send the 3­-year­-old filly to Pimlico for the 1 3­-16th­-mile race.

“Since it’s Mother’s Day, I wish I could announce to all mothers everywhere that this incredible filly is entered to take on the boys,” Jackson said in a statement. “But Triple Crown rules may prevent us from sending her to Pimlico.”

The Preakness is limited to 14 horses, with preference given to horses pre­-nominated to the Triple Crown. While Jackson is willing to pay the $100,000 supplemental fee required to make Rachel Alexandra eligible for the race, she may get bumped if 14 horses already nominated to the series are entered.

Although 5 horses have not fully committed to the race, the probable Preakness field suddenly swelled to 15 on Sunday, including 14 pre­-nominated horses and Rachel Alexandra.

Mine That BirdIt turns out that Mark Allen, the co­-owner of Mine That Bird (right), winner of the Kentucky Derby had conversation with Ahmed Zayat, owner of Pioneer of the Nile, second place finisher in the Kentucky Derby about possibly entering additional Triple Crown nominated horses in the Preakness to fill the field, in order to keep Rachel Alexandra from running. Mr Zayat agreed. That prompted the network connections of TVG to contact and interview Mr Zayad about his intentions.

Zayat said he had been contacted by Mine That Bird’s co­-owner Mark Allen, informing him he will be entering another horse in the second leg of the Triple Crown in order to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the race, and asked Zayat to join him, which he initially agreed to do.

Zayat had earlier told HRTV: “I got a phone call earlier today that I wasn’t familiar with the
phone number of that particular person, and that person kept calling and, lo and behold, it was the owner of the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, and he said, ‘Mr. Zayat, you don’t know me, I’m Mark Allen. Listen I have a request for you. I think this race is between me and you. You’d have been the favorite if Rachel Alexandra is not in the field and I’m looking for vindication that my colt was not a fluke and I’m sure you are looking to beat us also. I think this match is between us, it’s a rivalry. I’m going to be entering a colt, an AP Indy colt, to fill the field. I understand you are the number one owner in number of nominations — 22 colts — can you please help us. It’s good for the game.’

“His trainer actually got sick. I don’t know if you know this, he was on crutches; he actually went back because he has an infection in his leg. (Allen) said, ‘Listen, my trainer is gone and I also have my jockey being taken away from me and I don’t know if I’m going, or can even can run in the Preakness like that. I feel like I want to compete in the Triple Crown, I want to have my colt prove himself, you want to prove yourself, can you help me?'”

Zayat also said on TVG that he heard from Marylou Whitney that she will enter a horse as well to help promote her stallion Birdstone, the sire of Mine That Bird. “She is one of the bluebloods of the game, and has done so much for the sport, and because she wanted to showcase their stallion Birdstone, she has instructed trainer D. Wayne Lukas to enter a colt (Luv Gov) in the Preakness.”

Pioneer of The Nile
Pioneer of The Nile

“That is the background of what I’ve been through. I’ve reflected on my decision. At first I said I would use my legitimate right to try with owners to fill the field. The two factors were the following. I think the filly is really special. She’s the most beautiful thing. I watched her race in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and it was spectacular. I felt so privileged to see that. Then I see the filly is running in two weeks. I have a colt who competed in the Derby, and finished second. I feel I have to come back in two weeks and compete in the second leg and the third leg if I will. She didn’t go through that. She didn’t run in the Derby and lo and behold she changes owners and they decide they want to take a shot in the Preakness.

“Her former owner’s original plan was not to run in the Preakness. He said he had respect for the industry, and that the Triple Crown was to showcase the 3­-year­-old colts and future stallions. I have never heard of a jockey moving from a Kentucky Derby winner to ride another horse. I find it disrespectful for America’s most coveted race. Considering all these factors, along with what I heard from other owners and breeders, I decided I would do what was in the best interest for all of us. To be honest with you, I’m not playing saint and am not above everything else. I have a vested interest; it was a business decision.

Owner Ahmed Zayat
Owner Ahmed Zayat

“One other criteria for me, I like playing by the rules. All these colts from the very beginning have had to compete and go through the regimen and tough scheduling and go from one race to another to get graded earnings, and that puts a lot of stress on them. And in all fairness, she did not have to go through all that, and her previous owners did not even bother to nominate her to the Triple Crown, and then someone else comes in and tries to change the name of the game and the rules in the middle of the game and I think that is unfair. I’m not against the filly running against the boys. Who am I to say that? But I am questioning the two­-week interval. Why not give her a freshening and run her in the Belmont? Two weeks for a filly. Does our sport need another Eight Belles? We all know what happened to Rags to Riches after her race in the Belmont. We all know what happened to Ruffian. I did not want to have that part of it on my watch.

“Nevertheless, after talking to the president of the Maryland Jockey Club I have decided I don’t want to be viewed as not being a sportsman, so I am happy not to block her for the good of the game. Please understand this is not about me; this is about the industry, and although what is right is not very clear to me I am happy to reconsider my decision for the fans.”

John Hendrickson, husband and racing­-breeding manager for Marylou Whitney said they hadn’t spoken with Mr Ahmad Zayat, and although they are planning to run Luv Gov in the Preakness, at the request of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, they would withdraw him if it meant excluding Rachel Alexandra.

Mark Allen co­-owner of Mine That Bird, left and Trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. Mine That Bird, right


Mark Allen, co-­owner of Mine That Bird has also since recanted, and told Sports Illustrated that he will not enter an additional horse to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness.

There are several things worth noting in reference to the comments made by Mr Zayad about Ruffian and the Eight Bells tragic mishap after last years Kentucky Derby. There were questions about Ruffian’s soundness leading up to her match race with Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park.

If you dare to compare Rachel Alexandra to Eight Bells, a nice filly in her own right, know that they both won the same race at Oaklawn Park leading up to their races in Kentucky. However, Rachel Alexandra improved the track record by over 2 full seconds which translates more than a 10 length better performance than the year before, and did it with much greater ease, winning totally in hand, with little urging from her jockey Calvin Borel. Rachel Alexandra has also won her most recent races so easily and with such little effort that the two weeks between races should not be a hindrance to her. Those races were actually more like public workouts to her than a normal stick cracking all out drive to the finish.

At first glance after reading or listening to Sunday’s news about owners entering extra horses to keep the filly from running, one might question their integrity or honesty.

In defense of owners Mark Allen, Ahmed Zayat, and maybe even Marylou Whitney, the only thing unique about this situation is that it’s a filly, and, that this is the first year anyone has made an effort to actually try to do something about deterring fresh horses entering into a leg of the Triple Crown without having run in them all. Although it may also have a little to do with the fact that Mr. Allen would like to retain his jockey, this conversation has been brewing for sometime.

Rachel's all alone run for home
Rachel’s all alone run for home
If both horses race in the Preakness, Calvin Borel will ride Rachel Alexandra
If both horses race in the Preakness, Calvin Borel will ride Rachel Alexandra

Racing’s “Triple Crown” is one of the few sports that competes in an event of this caliber without excluding none-­qualified entrants from participating once the event has started. If you don’t make the cut in a major golf championship, a four day event, you don’t play. Even if you are Tiger Woods. You can be the best driver with the best record in NASCAR racing, but if you don’t pass the qualifying rounds you can’t compete in the race. Imagine competing in a triathlon with the ambition to win all three legs, and after completing the swimming portion, Lance Armstrong is allowed to compete in the cycling leg, without having had to swim.

Most sports putting on an event with size and seriousness of the Triple Crown would not allow a non­-qualified entrant into the three race series once the qualifying rounds were done and the series had begun. Allowing a horse to run in the second or third leg of racing’s Triple Crown without having run in the first one has long been an issue in the thoroughbred world.

Although that has always been the rule, times change, and conditions change. There is a much larger horse population now than ever before, with better breeding, and a larger group of experienced, capable trainers preparing them. The requirements of graded stakes earnings in order to qualify have largely been accepted and do make sense to many involved in the industry.

Those same rules that govern who is eligible to run in a Triple Crown race keep the competition thriving and the prep races full leading up to the Kentucky Derby. After 30 years without a Triple Crown winner it’s time to take another look!

Stay with us this week as we bring you up to date on all of the horses and players in this years running of the 134th Preakness Stakes.

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