Commentary

'Rachel' beating the best

Updated: September 11, 2009, 7:32 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Rachel Alexandra never left her stall Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, and still her legend grew. When Summer Bird won the Travers and Sara Louise won the Victory Ride, it only further proved that Rachel is not only pummeling her competition, she is pummeling very good horses.

Often, the critics will argue that certain star horses have been beating up on soft competition. The refrain is: "but who did she beat?" In Rachel Alexandra's case, she has been continually beating horses that have gone to on to score major wins as soon as they find a Rachel-less race.

Rachel Alexandra trounced Summer Bird in the Haskell, winning by six lengths. Summer Bird came right back and won the Travers by a decisive 3 lengths and is now widely recognized as the leading 3-year-old male in training.

Five races before the Travers, Sara Louise returned from a nine-month layoff to win the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes by two lengths. It was her first appearance since she finished second behind Rachel Alexandra in the 2008 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Sara Louise, it should be noted, is the last horse to beat Rachel Alexandra. She finished 3 lengths in front of her in the 2008 Pocahontas at Churchill Downs.

Sara Louise and Summer Bird are just two among a noteworthy list of horses who have gone on to major successes after losing to Rachel Alexandra. Others include:

Flashing: She finished 31 lengths behind Rachel Alexandra when third in the Mother Goose. In her next start, she won the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga.

Gabby's Golden Gal: After finishing 29 lengths behind Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks, she won the Grade I Acorn at Belmont.

Just Jenda: After finishing 11 lengths behind Rachel in the Fantasy, she suffered a loss when second in the Eight Belles, but has subsequently won the Serena's Song and the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks.

***

New York City OTB is back in the news and, once again, for all the wrong reasons. The only bookmaker in the world that can't figure out a way to make money, OTB is so broke that it is heading into bankruptcy. It's now run by the state of New York and Governor David Paterson believes bankruptcy is the best option to get OTB back on its feet and solve its many problems.

Paterson, like virtually everyone else who has ever had a hand in the OTB mess, doesn't get it. Government should not be running betting in New York. It has been a proven recipe for disaster from Day One with OTB. As long as government is in charge, it will not be run efficiently and dozens of political patronage hacks will get paid six-figure salaries to do nothing.

The answer is to sell OTB to a private company. Let one of them come in, fire the bums, turn the business around and start making money. To do otherwise is to continue to perpetuate a mistake that should have been corrected decades ago.

***

Whether she wins the training title or not, Linda Rice has had a remarkable run at Saratoga. Entering the last week of the meet, she is tied for first place with Todd Pletcher in the trainers' standings with 14 wins each. Pletcher has started 56 more horses at the meet than Rice has.

Coming into Saratoga 2009, Rice was an unlikely candidate to threaten for a title. Not only has no female trainer ever won a training title at any of the sport's premier tracks, but also Rice has far fewer horses than the Pletchers, Bill Motts and Kiaran McLaughlins of the training world and generally doesn't have the type of quality stock that can compete at Saratoga.

But Rice has found her niche, excelling with grass horses. Twelve of her 14 wins have come on the grass and she is winning with a remarkable 44 percent of her grass runners.

That none of the sport's major owners have discovered her yet is remarkable. Are they just not paying attention?

***

What's going on with Calvin Borel? No jockey has had a worse meet at Saratoga than Rachel Alexandra's rider. Entering the last week of the meet, Borel is 1-for-33 and only four of his mounts have finished in the money. That, of course, should change Saturday in the Woodward when Rachel takes on older males. Still, Borel will likely be happy to get out of town and return to the Kentucky tracks where he can count on a slew of good mounts.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com