Rachel's Absence Leaves a Void For Casual Fan

Let me start off by saying that I am not one of those who needs to have a potential Triple Crown winner or a super filly going into the Belmont Stakes to remain interested. The Belmont stands on its own. It's one of the greatest races in America and will always be relevant no matter who is in the race.

Like many of you reading this, I am an avid racing fan. I will watch the third at Philly Park on Thursday just as easily as I will watch a grade I. I love racing no matter what is at stake.

That being said, I am well aware of what Rachel Alexandra's absence in the Belmont means to the general public. It means TV ratings will go down and the race moves off the front page of newspapers (and Web sites) in mainstream America. It means the average fan loses interest in the race.

"The filly isn't going to race against the Derby winner again? No potential Triple Crown winner? I'm not interested." That is what the average person will say. I know this from talking to several of my friends and family members who are just casual fans. They all watched the Preakness with great interest to see if the filly was going to beat the boys. They loved it when she did. They were looking forward to watching her do it again in the Belmont.

My dad called me earlier in the week to say he read an article in his local newspaper about Rachel's connections being undecided for the Belmont. He couldn't figure out why.

"If she isn't hurt, why wouldn't they run her?" he asked. I had to explain to my dad that racing a horse three times in six weeks is very taxing and it could potentially jeopardize her for the rest of the year, and beyond, and that there were other big races to look forward to later in the year. My dad was still a little perplexed, because like the casual fan, the Triple Crown races are all that matter to him. After the Belmont, the racing season is over, as far as he is concerned. Saratoga? Keeneland? The Breeders' Cup? Who cares? That is how he looks at it. Folks, he is in the majority, not the minority.

After Jess Jackson confirmed on Friday that Rachel would not run in the Belmont I could not help but think, what if. What if Rachel had run, and won, the Derby? We could be days away from one of the most anticipated Belmont Stakes in memory. Or, what if they held Rachel out of the Preakness and she was headed to the Belmont to try to spoil Mine That Bird's Triple Crown bid? In this second scenario, what would Calvin Borel have done? Would he really take off a potential Triple Crown winner in favor of the filly? That would have been one tough decision.

I do not blame Rachel's former owner, Dolphus Morrison, for deciding not to run her in the Derby. I also don't blame her new owner, Jess Jackson, for running her in the Preakness and not the Belmont. They each had their reasons and did what they thought was right. As owners, they had the right to choose.

As I said before, even without the potential drama, I will be excited to watch the Belmont next weekend. I'm looking forward to watching perhaps a new superstar emerge or seeing if Borel can pull off the "Calvin Crown." It should be a great race.

Still, as I watch the race, there will surely be part of me that says, "what if the 2009 Triple Crown had played out differently? What if?"

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