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TrackNotes: Abusing Rachel

Cajun Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel must go. Now.

After a full five days of dulling disappointment in Rachel Alexandra's loss in Saturday's Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, another issue, one that gets little attention in this country, is the manner in which Borel "urged" Rachel as they came down the stretch at The Spa.

There are two other names for it. Whipping. Abuse.

To set the stage, a little handicapping is in order.

As post time approached, the race shaped up as a showdown between Rachel and Life At Ten, a quality 5-year-old mare with a 14-7-5-1 record and six straight wins coming in.

It was to be Rachel's biggest test of the year and would serve as an indicator of her race form in the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup. Common wisdom had it that she would not be able to last the classic distance of 10 furlongs, or 1-1/4 miles.

She didn't.

It was easy to see Rachel was ready to run. She blasted out of the gate and, lest she run away and hide, Life At Ten hustled to keep up. By the time they approached the clubhouse turn, the two were a full 10 lengths in front of the rest of the field.

They pretty much maintained the gap down the backstretch, running the first quarter-mile in 23.66 seconds and the half in 47.73. Very fast, but not suicidal. I remember thinking that unless Rachel was a bunch better than Life At Ten and they were both better than the rest of them, Rachel was not going to win this race.

As they came down the stretch and all the way to the wire, Rachel displayed once again her magnificent heart and that special intangible that elevates the true champions above the rest. But there was just one problem: Rachel Alexandra is not a racehorse that can comfortably get 10 furlongs.

Her best distance is 8.5 furlongs, or 1-1/16 miles, and 9 furlongs suits her well too. So at about the eighth pole, her fatigue began to show and she hit the proverbial wall, except she spent the next hundreds of yards getting through the wall. She never, ever quit.

Alan Garcia must have been thrilled when he saw the pace battle up front, and his Persistently dashed ahead of Rachel to win the race by a length. Life At Ten? Rachel dispatched her with crushing ease and she finished 10-1/4 lengths behind in third.

Another thought I had as they were coming down the stretch was: Must Borel keep hitting that horse when it's so obvious he's gotten, and she's given, everything she will have today? It was not making her go any faster.

In hindsight, most people could tell you Rachel was not going to get the distance. Paulick Report proprietor Ray Paulick called it the week before:

"[Life at Ten's] front-running style poses a serious challenge to Rachel Alexandra, and if these two somehow get caught up in a speed duel, don't be shocked if Persistently - from the Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey, who also trained Personal Ensign - comes running late. She has the only win over the Saratoga track this year, and though it was only in allowance company stranger things have happened at the Graveyard of Champions."

Rachel Alexandra's connections of owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen were pushing their luck in trying it. Were they experimenting to see how she'd handle 10 furlongs in anticipation of the Breeders' Cup Classic? If they were . . . well, I'm getting a little sick and tired of the way they are managing this wonderful mare.

Back to Borel; his performance in this race should have earned him a suspension and a fine. If this were most other countries in the racing world, it would have.

In watching the replay, I counted fully 18 times he either whipped Rachel on her front shoulder or on her rear hindquarters, or used the reins to slap her up front. And, as too many riders in America are wont to do, they were often wind-up-high and hit-her-hard slaps with a whip that has been banned in some other countries.

Other countries have adopted softer whips, limited the number of strikes allowed, and mandated that the elbow, forearm and hand do not rise above the jockey's shoulder. Jockeys are closely watched and these guidelines are applied. You abuse, you sit.

Hell, it seems the only time stewards appear to care about the treatment of the horses is when something extraordinary, like jockey Victor Molina kicking his horse after a race, occurs. Which was caught on television. Curiously, I was unable to find the video online, but I did see it when it happened.

I'm no expert, but I think Monty Roberts and he has a great analysis of the issue on his web site:

"Horses do not often think strongly about reproduction during a race, which leaves us with only one facet of a horse's existence, his goal to survive. Consider for a moment that we are human beings dealing with horses under circumstances extremely demanding and frightening to them. Knowing that they are vitally concerned with their own survival, we often conclude that the best course of action is to whip them and cause them pain in the hopes that it will get them to run faster.

"I submit that this is not only a bad decision from a humane standpoint, but a worse decision where its effect is concerned. Horses are animals. Their natural tendency is to push into pressure, like a child does biting on hard bread when cutting teeth. We may frighten a horse the first few times we whip him in a race, but very soon he may resent the whip and back-up to it, actually causing him to run more slowly."

I'm not going to get into the various issues of what is, in America, still a debate. But anyone watching the Personal Ensign on Saturday had to have seen that Borel was whipping the hell out of Rachel. Borel rode her as if he had a push-button machine. Did it not dawn on him, with all his years of experience, that her getting the distance was going to be iffy to begin with? Why did he seemingly try to style it and attempt to have Rachel wire the damn race?

Who knows, but you wonder if Rachel was thinking "Hey little man, what more do you want out of me?!"

It was as if he picked up the mount on an $8,000 claimer at the last minute. Shouldn't he know Rachel better than that by now?

Borel's conduct was all about himself, as it usually is.

Rachel Alexandra was competitively compromised by mere entry into a race of this nature and Borel did her no favors. Unfortunately, the Breeders' Cup will be held at Churchill Downs this year, a course where Borel is considered to have home-track advantage.

So unless Rachel mule-kicks Jackson and Asmussen in their skulls to get their brains operating again, it would appear Borel finishes out what will likely be two more races in Rachel's career.

If only Rachel Alexandra could whip a little sense and a little compassion into those three homonids.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes (nearly) every Friday. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021