Get thee to the Acorn!

Last week, I felt like I was the only person paying attention to racing who wasn’t utterly charmed by Mine That Bird’s win in the Derby.

This week, I feel like I’m the only person paying attention to racing who isn’t utterly thrilled at the prospect of Rachel Alexandra going in the Preakness instead of in the Acorn.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against fillies racing against colts. In fact, I wish that it happened more frequently, and that it weren’t such a Big Event when it happened.

But I also think that the calls for the most accomplished female horses to test themselves against males smack of sexism and devalue the great races restricted to fillies and mares.

I understand the notion that a horse should test herself in unrestricted company to prove her greatness, and I don’t necessarily disagree. That said: I never heard anyone say that in order for Curlin to prove his greatness, he should race against Zenyatta or Zarkava. It seems that only females need to race against the other sex in order to establish their quality.

I understand, too, those who say that notions of human gender and sex equality have no place on the racetrack, though I don’t entirely agree. No less than in culture in general, the standard for greatness on the track is male, regardless of the actual quality of the horses. Since the injuries to such horses as Quality Road and I Want Revenge, more than one racing commentator has opined that the current crop of three-year-olds is mediocre. I leave that to others to decide, but if it’s true, what does Rachel Alexandra prove by beating them? Is beating mediocre males more of an accomplishment than beating great females? Or: is beating mediocre males more of an accomplishment than beating mediocre females, given the general opinion of the field she beat in the Oaks?

The underlying notion that the Preakness is “better” than the Acorn smacks of an implicit sexism, one with which human females are quite familiar. It is the male who sets the standard, and we need to meet it in order to be considered as good. Fillies and mares need to race against and beat their male counterparts, regardless of the quality of those male counterparts, while the reverse is nearly never true.

Make no mistake: watching Rags to Riches beat Curlin in the 2007 Belmont is one of the two most exciting and personally meaningful sporting moments of my life (the other is the 1994 New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory), and the only one that I witnessed in person. I will never forget it, and I am grateful that I was there.

But in U.S. racing it is not, unfortunately, customary to race males against females, unlike in its foreign counterparts; I wish it were. I wish that we could see more mixed sex racing at all levels, from claimers to stakes winners, if only to debunk the absurd notion that racing females against males is somehow bad for the female. But we don’t. And to hold great female horses to a stubborn standard, one based only on genitalia, insults the sex-restricted races and the terrific fillies and mares who race in them.

I don’t want to see Rachel Alexandra excluded from the Preakness by means of gamesmanship and mean-spiritedness, and I’m glad that that foolishness has been put aside. But I will be one of apparently few who will be not-so-secretly happy if we see her in the Acorn on June 6th, instead of at Pimlico this Saturday.

4 thoughts on “Get thee to the Acorn!

  1. It’s never good when horses run in races they aren’t pointing towards. It’s not like she has to proove anything by running in the Preakness and then what happens if she runs poorly.Both of her worst races have come when she’s been running back on 15 days rest.

  2. Derek: You are so right when saying “It’s never good when horses run in races they aren’t pointing towards.” Brilliant comment and I will include the Filly in my exoctics on Sat., but certainly will not key her. I’ll be using Big Drama in that role.Teresa, great conversation today on The Rail becuase of your post, and let me say again I wish sweet Rachel was Acorn bound, with dreams of the Triple Tiara dancing in her head. But alas, new connections with new directions.

  3. Win or lose the Preakness, just by entering the field, Rachel Alexandra solidifies her status as a filly superpower. And that comes from the same camp that sold the media that Curlin was the greatest horse in the world as a four year old and was bound for The Arc. All without racing on the grass! Ultimately when Curlin did get his head handed to him by Red Rocks at Belmont Park reality set in. Once again reality will set in when Rachel Alexandra is brought back down to earth and along with it, her legions of fans. Now I know that might be hard to digest, but I’ve seen this mass hysteria too many times in recent years. The last time it was Rags to Riches after winning the Belmont Stakes. Rag to Riches’ fans wanted her to take on and beat the boys again in The Travers for an encore, then as icing on the cake, to topple the best in the Breeders Cup Classic. Well we saw how fleeting her two and a half minutes of fame was. Rachel Alexandra’s fans must come to grips soon – hopefully sooner, rather than later or set themselves up for major disappointment later in the year. Today’s thoroughbreds are not of the same ilk of the truly great ones. The veteran fans never lose sight of that fact.

  4. I agree with you about Rachel Alexandra running in the wrong race. And as Derek pointed out, she was never considered for this race — as Winning Colors was for the Derby via the Santa Anita Derby and Genuine Risk was through the Wood. And The Knight Sky makes a good point that actually applies to the quintet of Winning Colors, Genuine Risk, Rags to Riches, Eight Belles and Ruffian: All were 3-year-old fillies taking on colts in the spring/summer season, and the net record of these fillies after racing colts is one Grade 1 win for Genuine Risk.Most 3-year-old fillies in spring/summer competition versus colts at middle distances in this country don’t appear to quite have the ability to handle pace — except for that amazon Winning Colors. Breaking from #13 will make RA have to run hard early, and she’ll have to contest a stiff pace; also, she’s a tall, rangy mare, and Pimlico, with tight turns, will not help her. She also is known to have a chip, according to published reports.In Europe, 3-year-old fillies usually face colts for the first time in the Arc (at middle distances, not counting sprints and miles) in the fall, and the best of them — fillies like Zarkava and Allez France — have come from off the pace to win with one run.

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