RACHEL: SHADES OF SEABISCUIT?
By Ray Paulick
There has been a lot of talk since Charles Cella shocked the racing world with his $5 million Apple Blossom gambit comparing the proposed Rachel Alexandra – Zenyatta confrontation at Oaklawn Park with the storied match race between Triple Crown hero War Admiral and the great Seabiscuit. Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, likes to talk about how he saw Seabiscuit race in California during his youth. But does Jackson remember that Seabiscuit was defeated in his final race before the match with War Admiral, just as Rachel Alexandra lost her 2010 debut Saturday at Fair Grounds?
I went to the source on all things Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend and asked for her thoughts on yesterday’s performances that went from the agony of defeat for Rachel Alexandra’s camp to the thrill of victory for those backing Zenyatta. Here are Laura Hillenbrand’s thoughts comparing the two rivalries:
There are obvious limits to the parallels one can draw between Seabiscuit-War Admiral and Rachel-Zenyatta. But what came to mind as I watched Rachel lose, and Zenyatta win, is that past is not always precedent in such meetings. War Admiral’s last start before the match race was the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and he won it much as Zenyatta won her race–under wraps, in smashing style. In his last start prior to the match, Seabiscuit was soundly beaten by the soon-to-be champion three-year-old filly, Jacola. He was carrying 24 pounds more than Jacola, and encountered traffic trouble, but she beat him rather impressively, breaking the track record at Laurel. Seabiscuit’s loss made War Admiral even more of a favorite in the match race, but Seabiscuit’s trainer, Tom Smith, wasn’t the least bit worried. The losing effort brought Seabiscuit’s fitness to the place he needed it to be, and he trounced War Admiral a little more than two weeks later.
Zenyatta’s connections were surely hoping to preserve her unbeaten record; for Rachel, a loss would be a much smaller deal, so perhaps they could afford to have her a little less fit, in the service of having her peak in the Apple Blossom.
Times have changed and horses are handled far differently today, but am I crazy in suggesting that there could still be an Apple Blossom between these two with Rachel winning, just as Seabiscuit not only went on to face War Admiral but defeated him soundly?
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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