Plastic surgery ruins Rachel's look

Filly misses Breeders' Cup chance as owner hits out at course's synthetic surface

Chris McGrath
Monday 21 September 2015 12:39

Revolutions are best measured by their reactionaries, and yesterday produced depressing evidence of continued resistance to the joyous sense of adventure animating the international sport. Only last week, the pioneering Royal Ascot success of Wesley Ward demonstrated that an unprecedented spree for Europe at the Breeders' Cup last autumn did not represent a terminal tilt in the balance of transatlantic power. But Jess Jackson, the viticulture tycoon who is majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, has now vowed unequivocally that his sensational filly will avoid the Breeders' Cup this autumn – citing his distaste for what he archly described as the "plastic" surface at Santa Anita.

The installation of synthetic tracks at many American circuits has rapidly dismantled the old barriers between dirt and turf horses. At the same time, however, a bitter schism has developed between dirt diehards and those who believe the new, artificial surfaces to be safer. The American bloodstock Establishment has huge vested interests in stallions with dirt pedigrees and performance, and it will be a long time before places such as Churchill Downs – home of the Kentucky Derby – or Saratoga are prepared to dig up their tracks.

The inevitable catharsis is proving painful. In fairness to Jackson, he is hardly an instinctive conservative. After all, it was only after his acquisition of Rachel Alexandra that she was boldly switched to take on the colts in the Preakness Stakes – where her defeat of the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, proved one of the epic Triple Crown races.

Jackson, moreover, was sufficiently earnest about the idea of taking his previous champion, Curlin, to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year to forfeit the colt's unbeaten sequence with a failed experiment on turf. And then he overcame his reservations about the new track at Santa Anita and ran Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic, essentially for the good of the game.

Sadly, however, Curlin's defeat has now bequeathed a stunning legacy for the managers of Santa Anita, who have the unusual privilege of staging the meeting two years running. "I have a very strong dislike for plastic surfaces," Jackson said. "I saw Curlin and how he struggled. If it's a dirt horse, it's a dirt horse. Plastic favours turf horses. I've raced at Hollywood, Del Mar, Keeneland – all vary the normal handicapping potential of a good dirt horse, and Rachel is a good dirt horse."

Next year, the nomadic series returns to Churchill Downs, and Jackson indicated that Rachel Alexandra might well go there if kept in training. In the meantime, she faces just four rivals for the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont tomorrow. However brilliant she may look there, from now on she will always have an implied imperfection.

Wonderful as she is, Rachel Alexandra could lose even more, in missing the Breeders' Cup, than will the Breeders' Cup, in missing Rachel Alexandra.

Goodwood is beckoning

Two Listed races for fillies decorated some plain midweek fare yesterday, albeit Rachel Alexandra would have lapped the lot of them. Royal Stream certainly deserves credit for her toughness, however, having won the Eternal Stakes at Warwick just eight days after a very generous effort in defeat at Royal Ascot.

Royal Stream is trained by Sir Michael Stoute for the Queen, who showed a degree of clemency in allowing Jamie Spencer to ride. It was Spencer who thwarted her filly in the Sandringham Ascot last week, when giving Moneycantbuymelove an exceptionally strong ride. The 6-5 favourite, though a daughter of Sadler's Wells, coped readily with the relative test of speed. "Sir Michael left the tactics up to me," Spencer said. "And I decided to sit handy as it was a shorter trip than at Ascot. She impressed me."

The Hoppings Stakes at Newcastle, meanwhile, was won decisively by Lady Jane Digby, who was sustaining the excellent form of Mark Johnston's stable. She surged five lengths clear, proving far too streetwise on her 16th start for the favourite, Gripsholm Castle, who was making only her second appearance and mustered only one pace in fourth.

Johnston is really on a roll now. And once his stable finds momentum, it tends to keep finding extra – very much in the fashion of the front- runners often associated with his yard. Knowing his sentimental predilections, it seems safe to say that Goodwood must be on the horizon.

Turf account Chris McGrath


Solar Graphite (7.35 Newmarket)

After qualifying for a modest rating last year, he was gelded and raised in trip to make a winning start in handicaps at Folkestone. Might have followed up with clear run at Goodwood last time, and has the pedigree to improve again over this extra furlong.

Next best

High Ambition (6.50 Newcastle)

Missed last season but has resurfaced in a top yard and hinted that he might be ready to strike form when staying on nicely into midfield at Doncaster last time. Still completely unexposed over this longer distance.

One to watch

Dance The Star (D M Simcock)

Won three times during his first season and this well-bred, good-looking colt suggested he is about to resume that progress when staying on strongly at Kempton on Wednesday.

Where the money's going

Masterofthehorse is 7-2 from 4-1 with Coral for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Curragh, Sunday).

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