The Belmont Stakes got a lot less interesting from the public perspective on Friday with the news that Rachel Alexandra will not be running in the race. Though I was beginning to hold out hope because the decision was taking longer than expected, this is pretty much exactly what I was expecting since about 12 seconds before the Belmont ended. Though the filly ran one heck of a race and deserves all of the credit in the world for what she accomplished, she was losing ground to the Derby champion, Mine That Bird, awfully quickly, and it was just a matter of moments before she would have been caught and passed. The Belmont is significantly longer than the Preakness (5/16 of a mile), and is further than any horse in the race is ever likely to be asked to run again in their lives. She clearly didn’t like the track at Pimlico on Preakness day, but the fact is that there are more reasons to believe that she could have been beaten in the Belmont than there were to think that she could have won the race. That’s not to say that she couldn’t win – she certainly could – just that there was a much greater chance that she could lose the Belmont than there was that she would lose the Preakness.
That, then, was the problem, and the reason that I never expected to see her in the Belmont – there was no upside to running in the Belmont. She’s already won a classic, she’s already beat Mine That Bird, and everyone already thinks that she’s a super filly. A win would have further enhanced her reputation, but not nearly as much as a bad loss would have diminished it. No one remembers Big Brown’s incredibly impressive wins in the Derby and the Preakness last year. They only remember how he was dead freaking last in the Belmont. Jess Jackson reportedly paid as much as $10 million to buy this filly before the Preakness, so he has to work hard to protect that massive investment. Sadly, the best way to protect that investment is to hide the filly for a while. If he’s lucky then people will remember her, and she’ll get lots of attention when she runs this summer – at a distance and against a field carefully selected so that she can beat them impressively, I suspect. This is definitely as case is sports where the economics of the situation dictates the decision making process. Those situations are depressingly common these days.
I no that people won’t care about the Belmont nearly as much now, but I hope that they don’t forget about it entirely. It still shapes up as a very interesting race. We get to see ifMine That Bird is for real – it is his race to lose now for sure. The impressive Dunkirk and the promising Chocolate Candy are back after the Derby for another shot. Charitable Man would perhaps have been the biggest star of his class if a knee injury late last year hadn’t caused him to miss seven months of action. He’s a real threat. This race doesn’t need the filly to be a great one, but most people won’t recognize that. Such is the plight of horse racing, I guess.