Jackson issues statement regarding Rachel

Here is a statement issued by co-owner Jess Jackson after Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra breezed four furlongs in 50.20 seconds Monday morning over a sloppy sealed track at Churchill Downs:

“We watched her work this morning. She is progressing well but we still can’t make any decision on her next start. If anything we will have to hold her back a little because she is so eager to run. The Belmont Stakes is still under consideration but no decision will be made this week.”

Rachel is still iffy for the Belmont Stakes

The latest on the Derby and Preakness winners, thanks to the folks in the Churchill Downs publicity office:

DERBY WINNER ‘BIRD’, PREAKNESS WINNER RACHEL ALEXANRA WORK; FILLY’S BELMONT DECISION PENDING

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 25, 2009) – The stars of the 2009 Triple Crown season ignored rainy weather at Churchill Downs on Monday as Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner and Preakness (GI) runner-up Mine That Bird and the Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra turned in workouts over a “sloppy” track.

Mine That Bird had jockey Calvin Borel, his pilot in the “Run for the Roses”, in the saddle as he breezed four furlongs in :51 in his first serious training move since the Preakness. Rachel Alexandra cruised a half mile in :50.20 under exercise rider Dominic Terry, with a steady rain pelting the filly during much of her first work since her historic triumph in the second jewel of the Triple Crown on May 16 at Pimlico.

Two major questions remained without answers following the Memorial Day works. Will Rachel Alexandra run in the June 6 Belmont Stakes (GI) and attempt to become the first filly to win two legs of the Triple Crown? And, if she does not run in the 1 -mile “Test of the Champion,” would Borel have an opportunity to ride Mine That Bird in the Triple Crown’s final jewel?

Majority owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables said a decision of the Belmont Stakes status of Rachel Alexandra would not be made until next week at the earliest. Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to work then and her camp would know more after that effort…

“She is recovering nicely from the Preakness,” Jackson said. “The key thing is her attitude. She thinks can run through a brick wall. We have to pull her back because she wants to run.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen said he was pleased with the work, which came under unusual conditions. A brief, but heavy, rain shower started to pelt the track as Rachel Alexandra entered the far turn, about an eighth of a mile into her work.

“She looked beautiful, like Rachel does,” said Asmussen. “The weather was not exactly cooperating this morning. We a pretty good shower right in the middle of her breeze, but she handled it well, like she does everything else. She came back very relaxed and looked good.”

Jackson huddled after the work with Borel, who has ridden Rachel Alexandra throughout her winning streak of six consecutive stakes races, and Jerry Hissam, Borel’s agent. Jackson said that Robby Albarado, the rider of his two-time “Horse of the Year” Curlin, could be called on to ride Rachel Alexandra if the decision was made to run the filly in the Belmont and Borel had another Belmont riding commitment.

Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. said he was happy with the easy move by Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Serte Equine’s Mine That Bird, which came shortly after the mid-session break for track maintenance.

Woolley said he and co-owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach would wait a few more days before making a decision on a rider for the Belmont Stakes. The left the door open for Borel to return to the saddle aboard the Kentucky Derby winner if Rachel Alexandra’s camp decides against a Belmont bid.

Borel was in the irons for the 6 -length romp by the Birdstone gelding in the Kentucky Derby, but chose to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Mike Smith was aboard the Derby winner at Pimlico, but a previous commitment will keep him from riding Mine That Bird in the Belmont.

Douglas may never walk again

Jockey Rene Douglas, injured in a spill during the Grade III Matron Handicap at Arlington Park on Saturday, underwent seven hours of surgery at Northwestern Hospital and did not have feeling in his lower extremities. After the surgery, doctors said the 42-year-old rider may never walk again.

The Blood Horse is reporting that Douglas’ agent, Dennis Cooper, said doctors won’t be 100 percent sure until after the swelling goes down in 10 days to two weeks.

“But it doesn’t look good,” Cooper told Blood Horse. “It’s devastating.”

Cooper said Douglas will remain in intensive care for two weeks at Northwestern until he’s moved to rehab.

A team of specialists made efforts to repair compressed vertebrae and damage to Douglas’ neck. But the main concerns involved the jockey’s spinal cord, which may have been damaged by a fragment of splintered bone, according to Cooper.

This is very sad news. Good rider and classy individual. Please keep him in your prayers, folks, and let’s hope the doctors are wrong.

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Talkin Rachel, the Bird and Einstein

Some updated news on three of the most notable horses in training, courtesy of the Churchill Downs publicity staff:

WOOLLEY EAGER TO TAKE NEXT STEP WITH MINE THAT BIRD – The countdown to the Belmont Stakes (Grade I) is on for trainer Chip Woolley and his Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Mine That Bird.

“I am definitely looking forward to it,” Woolley said of the June 6 Belmont Stakes. “He is starting to bloom already again. He is going to stretch his legs in the morning, working an easy three-eighths.”

Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby, could be aboard for the work. Mine That Bird is scheduled to work after the mid-morning break for track maintenance.

After his Kentucky Derby victory, Mine That Bird ran second to Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness in an effort that validated his Derby score to many.

Woolley already was convinced the Derby victory was no mirage.

“It was not a fluke in my mind,” said Woolley, sporting a huge new belt buckle acknowledging the Derby victory. “He got past 18 super horses in a quarter of a mile. That validated him to me. That was not impossible, but right next to it.

“The only other trainer I heard say it was not a fluke was Bob Baffert. He said flukes don’t win the Derby.”

Woolley is comfortable with Mine That Bird’s conditioning heading into the Belmont and not feeling any pressure.

“(Owners) Mark (Allen) and Doc (Leonard Blach) told me that at this point it is just a race at a time,” Woolley said. “Everything is gravy from here on out and just enjoy it.”

PREAKNESS, OAKS WINNER RACHEL ALEXANDRA SET FOR MONDAY WORK – Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Preakness (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) in her last two starts, is scheduled to work for the first time since her May 16 Preakness victory on Monday at Churchill Downs.

The 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is scheduled to head to the track with the second set of horses for trainer Steve Asmussen around 6:15 a.m.

Rachel Alexandra galloped early Sunday morning under exercise rider Dominic Terry.

The filly’s status for the June 6 Belmont Stakes has not been decided. She has won six consecutive races. All of those wins came in stakes events in a string that started with last fall’s Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs.

EINSTEIN RETURNS TO WORK TAB WITH DRILL FOR FOSTER – Midnight Cry Stable’s Einstein (BRZ) worked a half-mile in :49.40 with jockey Julien Leparoux up before the renovation break over a fast track on Sunday morning. It was Einstein’s first work since winning the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) on May 2.

“He was ready to do something,” trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi said. “This was perfect this morning. He’ll work again next Sunday.”

The work, the first of three in preparation for the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I), was the highlight of the weekend for Pitts-Blasi, who celebrated a birthday Saturday and nearly got a victory in the final race when Fundy ran second in a maiden special weight race.

So, Helen, which was the most exciting aspect of the weekend: celebrating her birthday or watching Einstein work?

“Watching him work,” Pitts-Blasi said without hesitation.

In the Foster, Einstein will be trying to achieve a unique feat of sweeping three consecutive Grade I events on different surfaces. He won the Santa Anita Handicap on March 7 over a synthetic surface and took the Derby Day race on turf. The Stephen Foster is run on the main track.

That first-ever sweep of consecutive races on the different surfaces would also make Einstein only the second horse to collect Grade I victories on traditional dirt, turf and a synthetic surface. Lava Man is the only horse to achieve that feat.

Einstein finished second to two-time “Horse of the Year” Curlin in last year’s Foster and returned in November to win the $500,000 Clark Handicap (GII) on dirt.

Zenyatta: The day after

Pretty impressive comeback, huh? I mean, Mike Smith was as cool as a cucumber and didn’t even have to get into Zenyatta in the stretch while she easily defeated Life Is Sweet, a very nice filly in her own right who was coming off three consecutive graded stakes victories, including the Grade I Santa Margarita at Santa Anita.

So what’s next for the unbeaten queen of racing? The $300,000 Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 27? The $700,000 Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup against the males on July 11?

Whatever Team Zenyatta decides on, it’s becoming quite apparent that she’s going to need to take on the boys and beat them at some point this year in order to be considered for Horse of the Year. If Rachel Alexandra hadn’t taken on the boys and beaten them in the Preakness, Einstein would be the early favorite for Horse of the Year. But since Rachel tackled the males, stepped out of her comfort zone and beat them, she’s the frontrunner for Horse of the Year today.

I think with the way the handicap division appears to be down in Southern California right now, the Hollywood Gold Cup would appear to be a perfect spot for Zenyatta to try the boys. She loves the Cushion Track, where she’s 5-0, and Einstein is going to run in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 13. I think that probably eliminates him from the Gold Cup, and Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed is being pointed for a return at Del Mar and Tiago seems a ways out from returning.

What do you think? Time for Zenyatta to give it a whirl against the males?


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Some Belmont notes to toss around

Garrett Gomez and Edgar Prado lost out to John Velazquez for the mount on the Todd Pletcher-trained Dunkirk in the Belmont Stakes on June 6. Velazquez won the Belmont for Pletcher aboard Rags to Riches in 2007. Gomez will ride Chocolate Candy for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Gomez was in New York on Monday to work Chocolate Candy and he reportedly told his agent, Ron Anderson, that he liked how the Candy Ride colt finished.

Charitable Man, who impressively won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 9, is now a definite for the Belmont Stakes and that’s my early favorite to win the race. He’s already won twice over the sandy dirt course, a track some horses don’t take a liking to. And, he’s a son of Lemon Drop Kid, who won the 1999 Belmont Stakes, thus denying Charismatic the Triple Crown.

On a related note, it mystifies me why Joel Rosario, who has proven himself on the toughest jockey circuit in the country, has not landed any Triple Crown mounts. I know I wouldn’t hesitate to put him on a talented 3-year-old in the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. The kid can flat out ride, folks.

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Hoping for some fourth-race magic at Hollypark tonight

I really like Philly Slew, a 3-year-old gelding trained by William Gregory, in tonight’s fourth race at Hollywood Park. I think he’s sitting on a huge effort following a third-place finish against similar on opening day of this spring-summer meet.

Philly Slew had a wide trip last time and still held third under Tyler Baze, who thinks enough of the gelding to climb back aboard. Philly Slew’s top Beyer of 73 makes him a major player in this spot. He’s already negotiated tonight’s tricky seven-furlong distance, finishing third at Santa Anita on Feb. 14.

The only horse that scares me in here is the Jorge Gutierrez-trained Warren’s Tony R., who switches to Rafael Bejarano and is dropping from a maiden special weight into a $40,000 maiden claimer. One drawback — he’s raced twice against $32,000 maiden claimers, once at Fairplex and another time at Del Mar, and couldn’t find the winner’s circle.

I’ll bet win money on Philly Slew, who’s a generous 6-1 on the morning line, and box him in an exacta with Warren’s Tony R.

Who do you like tonight?

Milady: It doesn’t get any better than this

So much for unbeaten Zenyatta easing back into action, huh? First race back in seven months Saturday and she’s gotta go up against stablemate Life Is Sweet, who not only most likely holds an edge in conditioning but comes into the $150,000 Grade II Milady Handicap off three consecutive graded stakes victories, including the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 14.

This will be the first time the two John Shirreffs-trained distaffers will have faced each other, and it’s one of two intriguing stakes races at Hollywood Park this Memorial Day weekend. On Monday, Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Ventura will take on the boys again in the $250,000 Shoemaker Mile over the Hollypark turf course. Thorn Song, one of the best turf milers in the U.S., is scheduled to ship in from Kentucky today to run in the Shoemaker, which is scheduled to also include Hyperbaric, Whatsthescript, Dixie Chatter and U S Ranger.

Mike Smith, who’s ridden Zenyatta in her past six starts, has the assignment again Saturday as the 5-year-old Street Cry mare tries to extend her record to 10-0 with a second consecutive victory in the Milady. It won’t be easy, though. She’s carrying two pounds more (126) than she’s ever been asked to carry, and Life Is Sweet will be a tough customer with Garrett Gomez aboard. Life Is Sweet, a 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, has won 5 of 10 lifetime for earnings of $540,810. Zenyatta, who hasn’t raced since her memorable victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 24, has earnings of $2,144,580.

The only one in the nine-horse field I can see possibily giving Zenyatta a run for her money is her stablemate, who will carry second high weight of 122 pounds. What do you think?


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All signs point to Borel climbing back aboard The Bird

They’re both back on the track. To me, the fact the Mine That Bird camp is pushing back its jockey decision is a clear indication they’d like to have Calvin Borel back aboard for the Belmont so they’re waiting to see if Rachel Alexandra is going to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown. I don’t think Rachel is going to run, which means Borel could switch back and ride The Bird and win the Triple Crown on two different horses. This has been a very intriguing Triple Crown, to say the least.

Here’s the latest, fresh from Churchill Downs publicity officials:

RACHEL ALEXANDRA BACK ON TRACK FOR A GALLOP; MINE THAT BIRD GALLOPS,

JOCKEY CHOICE PUSHED BACK

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 20, 2009) – It was a day for racing royalty at Churchill Downs on Wednesday as Preakness (Grade I) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra returned to track for a gallop and Mine That Bird, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and a fast-closing runner-up in the Preakness, continued to show his spirit during his first gallop since Saturday’s race.

Rachel Alexandra, the first filly in 84 years to win the Preakness and the second Kentucky Oaks winner in three years to defeat males in a Triple Crown race in her next start, galloped a mile over a “fast” track for trainer Steve Asmussen. It was her first trip from the track since her dazzling victory in Saturday’s Preakness at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course and her return to Churchill Downs on Sunday.

Assistant trainer Scott Blasi said Rachel Alexandra would stand in the starting gate before she gallops on Thursday, so she will go to the track around 7:15 a.m. (all times EST). She normally heads to the track with Asmussen’s second set of horses around 6:15 a.m.

Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to work on Monday, May 25.

Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine’s Mine That Bird galloped 1 -miles in his second trip to the one-mile oval at Churchill Downs since he returned to the scene of his greatest triumph Monday evening. Exercise rider Charlie Figeuroa was in the irons as the Birdstone gelding went through his energetic gallop and appeared to be none the worse for wear after huge efforts in the first two races of the Triple Crown.

“The horse is just doing super – he’s on his game,” said trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. “We’re really surprised that he’s as fresh as he is after two good, hard races. The fortunate this for us is he only runs three-eighths of a mile, so he doesn’t use himself as hard as a lot of horses. So we’re pretty happy with where we’re at.”

Mine That Bird has been playful in both trips to the track since his return from Baltimore and Woolley said the Derby winner clearly loves his surroundings at Churchill Downs.

“Yesterday we just jogged him backwards and he was fresh and bright-eyed,” said Woolley. “But today he was really froggy out there, wanting to buck and play. And that’s kind of unlike him, because he’s more of a laid-back kind of horse. But I think he’s just really on his game right now and feels good. So we’ll figure out this week, and let him be the judge, and set up a work here pretty soon.”

Woolley said Mine That Bird would not work before early next week.

Regarding his search for a rider for the June 6 Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, Woolley said he and co-owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach have decided to wait until early next week before they make that choice. Calvin Borel was aboard for his 6 -length romp in the Kentucky Derby, but chose to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Mike Smith rode Mine That Bird in the Preakness, but has a previous commitment on June 6 that will knock him out of the Belmont.

Mine That Bird is set to return to the track for a gallop on Thursday. He usually heads to the track between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m., which would put him on the track at approximately the same time as Rachel Alexandra during Thursday’s training.

Update on 3-year-old stars

The latest on 3-year-old stars Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, courtesy of the Churchill Downs publicity folks:

KENTUCKY DERBY WINNER MINE THAT BIRD PLAYFUL IN JOG; RACHEL ALEXANDRA

SET FOR RETURN TO THE TRACK

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 19, 2009) – After two days off and a 9 -hour van ride from Baltimore, Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Mine That Bird returned to the track at Churchill Downs for a light jog on Tuesday.

Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine’s gelded son of Birdstone had regular exercise rider Charlie Figueroa in the saddle as he headed to the track around 7:15 a.m. (all times EDT). It was Mine That Bird’s first trip to the track since his runner-up finish to the Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Rachel Alexandra in Saturday’s Preakness.

Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. said Mine That Bird jogged one mile the wrong way over a “fast” surface.

“He went good, he looked good,” Woolley said. “He was bucking and playing a little, so we’re in good shape I think.”

Woolley said Mine That Bird would on gallop on Wednesday as the Kentucky Derby winner continues his preparation for the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI), the third jewel of racing’s Triple Crown. There is no set schedule for Mine That Bird’s next work.

The trainer’s phone continues to ring with offers from agents of jockeys who hope to pick up the mount on Mine That Bird for the Belmont Stakes. Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird in the Preakness, cannot ride because of a previous commitment in California. Calvin Borel, who was aboard for his 50-1 upset in the Derby, is committed to ride Rachel Alexandra, but her status for the Belmont Stakes (GI) has not been decided by majority owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen.

Woolley said he would discuss the issue with Mine That Bird’s owners and they hope to have a decision in “a couple of days.”

The runner-up finish in the Preakness improved Mine That Bird’s career record to 5-2-0 in 10 races and lifted his earnings to $2,011,581.

Meanwhile, Rachel Alexandra walked under Asmussen’s shedrow on her second day back at Churchill Downs following her historic win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to return to training on Wednesday. Asmussen said the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro would go to the track with his second set of horses around 6:15 a.m.

Her Preakness victory marked the sixth consecutive win for Rachel Alexandra, who has a record of 8-2-0 in 11 races with earnings of $1,618,354.