Kentucky Derby

Owners ruined Rachel Alexandra's story

It didn't take long for the humans to ruin what the animals had accomplished.

The goodwill from this year's Kentucky Derby has all but vanished under the "greed" and "arrogance," to borrow a couple of Mark Allen's words, leading up to Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Don't blame Rachel Alexandra, the outrageously talented filly who won the Kentucky Oaks by a mind-blowing 20¼ lengths. It's not her fault wine king Jess Jackson snatched her out of poor Hal Wiggins' barn and pointed her toward the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Don't blame Mine That Bird, the little-gelding-that-could who used Calvin Borel's brave ride to win the 135th Run for the Roses at 50-1, earn Sports Illustrated's cover and make heroes out of the black hats from New Mexico.

But then, all of a sudden, one black hat fit.

First, Allen, Mine That Bird's co-owner, conspired to fill the Preakness with the maximum 14 starters in an effort to block rocket Rachel from running against the boys.

In doing so, Allen recruited Pioneerof the Nile owner Ahmed Zayat into the surprisingly public plot, only to have Zayat bail when the reaction was unsurprisingly negative. That shamed Allen into releasing a self-flogging statement, attributing his behavior to "arrogance" and "greed."

OK, maybe the New Mexicans are new to all this, and maybe Zayat got caught up in the moment, but Jackson should know better.

The wine king can do what he wants with his money. That's his right. In his favor, he did keep Curlin on the track well beyond the time when most would have sent the talented runner to the breeding shed.

And, likewise, no one put a gun to Dolphus Morrison's head to make the Birmingham steel executive sell Jackson his horse of a lifetime. It's all part of the game.

But if Jackson is, as he claims to be, only out for the good of the game, then he should have known there would be something disappointing and uncomfortable about the whole deal.

The purchase itself sucks the charm right out of Rachel's story: the amazing homebred with the unheralded 67-year-old trainer.

I can't imagine what it was like at 5:15 a.m. last Thursday for Wiggins to watch his dream horse being led over to Steve Asmussen's care.

"We were fortunate to have her as long as we did," the classy Wiggins said afterward.

As for Jackson, the jury remains out. Is he really the reform-minded outsider he proclaimed himself to be when testifying before Congress last summer? Or is he simply an egomaniac who wants the NBC cameras on him in Baltimore?

After all, as a traditionalist, Morrison had no intention of running Rachel against the boys in the Triple Crown.

So now that Jackson is willing to pay the supplemental fee, god forbid something awful happens Saturday, especially after the filly Eight Belles' tragic death in the Derby a year ago, and Barbaro's Preakness breakdown three years back.

Is it really what's in the best interest of the horse, or the sport for that matter, to run her off just two weeks rest in a demanding race she never trained for in the first place?

It will be in the best interests of the TV cameras. Derby ratings were up. Expect Preakness viewership to follow suit.

Imagine the intrigue. Was Mine That Bird's Derby win a fluke? Is Rachel for real? Can the girl beat the boys after the boys tried to keep her out of the race in the first place?

We've come a long way in two weeks. Or have we?

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