Commentary

Puzzlement

Updated: May 14, 2009, 5:13 PM ET
By Randy Moss | Special to ESPN.com

Headline: Jess Jackson purchases Rachel Alexandra, will move her to barn of trainer Steve Asmussen and consider the Preakness Stakes.

Reaction: Puzzlement.

It isn't puzzling that wine billionaire Jackson would want to add Rachel Alexandra to his growing collection of broodmares. Jackson truly wants to improve thoroughbred racing and the breed itself, and is salivating at the prospect of a baby colt by Curlin out of the sensational Kentucky Oaks winner.

But the reason Jackson is attracted to Rachel Alexandra is her brilliance on the racetrack, punctuated with an exclamation point by her 20-length Oaks romp. And she reached this lofty stature through the work of veteran trainer Hal Wiggins. Asmussen is a world-class trainer, but why the switch? If Jackson bought the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, he wouldn't be looking to get rid of Ben Roethlisberger.

Running Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness would be even more of a misstep.

Bringing her back against colts two weeks after such an epic performance in the Oaks would be needlessly risking her future. She needs time to recover, and there is no justification for impatiently rushing her back. If Jackson is intent on entering her in a Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes is just as prestigious as the Preakness and the extra three weeks of recuperation would make more sense for the horse. Actually, targeting the Travers Stakes would be even more logical.

The very reason Jackson is focused on improving the breed is because modern racehorses — Rachel Alexandra included — are more fragile and not genetically engineered to cope with such back-to-back stresses in a two-week period.

Her Oaks was stressful. It may have appeared she was giving minimum effort, but nothing could be further from the truth. Horses like Rachel Alexandra are special not just because of talent, but also because of a burning desire to run. In her final pre-Oaks workout, she kept motoring so hard while "galloping out" that clockers looked at their watches in disbelief. In her gallop the morning before the race, her exercise rider struggled to keep her from breaking into a full-speed run and had to wrestle with her to finally bring her to a stop. She puts her heart into everything she does, and those who believe she wins her races effortlessly are missing the point: great athletes always make it look easy. No matter how motionless Calvin Borel sits in the saddle or how many times he cranes his neck to look for competition, Rachel Alexandra is already in turbo mode because that's who she is. Borel may not be "axing" her, as he likes to say in his colorful Cajun dialect, but this isn't one of those lazy, reluctant or indifferent horses that need urging.

Rachel Alexandra might be the best filly we've seen since Ruffian, and she undoubtedly will attempt to reach even deeper and find yet another gear when pushed to the absolute limit, as she likely would be in the Preakness or Belmont. That is the best argument of all to practice patience and make certain she's 100% before the gate opens.

Randy Moss has been an analyst for ESPN/ABC Sports thoroughbred racing coverage since 1999.

Randy Moss

Horse Racing
Before joining ESPN in 1999 as the network's chief horse-racing analyst, Randy Moss covered the sport for more than two decades for the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram and the Arkansas Democrat.