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A Janus-Like Weekend

The long holiday weekend we’ve just exited was a case study in the highs and lows of the sport. It’s impossible not to be excited by victories like Zenyatta’s in the Milady or old warhorse Brass Hat’s in the Louisville; however, the sobering accident at Arlington involving Rene Douglas was the flip side of that otherwise-bright coin.

First, the good news; Zenyatta’s delayed 5-year-old debut showed that the big mare has not lost any conditioning – she’s still doing her own little dressage competition in the post parade and then dawdling at the back of the pack before blowing by the field. It seems that every race really is the same for the undefeated champ. As impressive and effortless as her acceleration is, it would be so much more interesting to see her hook up with a true peer. Despite some encouraging comments after the race that she could face some stiffer competition, it seem that she will rather be pointed toward (to put it in ‘American Idol’ parlance) safe places.

Like Dana, I’m hoping to see something a little more unexpected in the long run – more people deserve to know who Zenyatta is, but beating up on SoCal mares isn’t the way to achieve wider recognition. A Breeders’ Cup showdown with Rachel Alexandra could be great indeed, but it would be even better to see them meet up on neutral ground first. Certainly new owner Jess Jackson wasn’t particularly interested in taking Rachel Alexandra to Santa Anita (given Curlin’s lackluster effort on Pro-Ride) unless it meant a crack at Einstein, Well Armed and the other big boys. (And I must confess that if Rachel Alexandra were to pull a Zarkava and beat older males, I’d be forever in awe).

Speaking of Rachel Alexandra, there’s still no word as to whether or not she will be Belmont-bound; given the way she is working it sounds as though she wants to go. Some have argued that in recent years a Belmont victory spells career doom, although I would argue that there’s a world of difference between a horse like Rachel Alexandra and, say, Sarava or Da’Tara. Afleet Alex was likely injured in the Preakness yet won the Belmont anyway and Empire Maker was rushed off to stud after the Jim Dandy (although you could probably also make the ‘rush to the breeding shed after minor injury’ argument about Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones – even Rags to Riches). Jazil had the breeding, but he probably still falls into the ‘freak longshot win’ category. While it’s true in recent years that Belmont winners have not, on the whole, done much beyond perhaps participating in the Travers, that seems to be due to a combination of two factors – early retirement when the horse is at its perceived peak financial value (these are, usually, stallions we are speaking about, after all) and fewer legitimate winners with distance pedigrees. Whether Rachel Alexandra goes or not, we can at least take heart that Mine That Bird won’t be shipping directly from Belmont to a stud farm.

And thus back to my favorite hard-knocking gelding – Brass Hat finally proved that he can win on turf (with a little help from the seemingly ever-present Calvin Borel). Unlike many of the horses mentioned above who were spirited off to retirement with injuries that would have earned them a little rest and a subsequent return in the past, Brass Hat continues to demonstrate that it takes more than a few potentially life-threatening injuries to keep him down. Just think – when Brass Hat was foaled in 2001, Rachel Alexandra’s sire, Megaglia d’Oro had yet to make his 2-year-old debut – and Mine That Bird’s sire, Birdstone, had just been born a week earlier. In horse racing career lifespan terms, Brass Hat practically has his own TARDIS – he’s even got a year on fellow time traveler Einstein. Long may he continue.

There was still more high-quality racing over the weekend – Bribon won the Met Mile at Belmont and Thorn Song took the Shoemaker Mile in California, but a pall was cast over events by the injury to veteran jockey Rene Douglas. This article explains the accident in some detail, while this somewhat unfortunately-titled Thoroughbred Times article, ‘Theriot suspended, Born to Be euthanized’ fills in the blanks about the filly involved.

I recommend a read of the Paulick Report commentary about the role of the stewards in these sorts of incidents; it’s an overdue discussion in my opinion and while it acknowledges the part played by jockey Jamie Theriot in the accident, it’s evident there is plenty of blame to go around elsewhere. One hopes something positive may come out of that.

While those efforts are not going to help Rene Douglas walk again, you can get involved in a number of activities being organized to assist his family via a Facebook group or you might consider a donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. Hopefully Douglas will not be joining their ranks, but it’s certainly a worthy cause.

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