The Fleur de Lis? Not For the Horse of the Year

So let me make sure I have this right:

The connections for Rachel Alexandra, the reigning Horse of the Year, have decided to bypass the Stephen Foster for the Fleur de Lis. Both races are the same day at 1 1/8 miles. The grade I Foster includes a solid field of older males, including Blame, Battle Plan, General Quarters, Arson Squad, and last year's winner, Macho Again--the same Macho Again that Rachel defeated by a head in the Woodward last summer.

In the grade II Fleur de Lis, Rachel will face four mares, only one of them a graded stakes winner and two of them former claimers. According to what Churchill Downs racing secretary Ben Huffman told DRF on Tuesday, they had quite a time trying to fill the race.

The connections also bypassed another race they nominated to on the same day, the grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park. That race drew only five, but it at least included Unrivaled Belle, the filly that defeated Rachel last out in the La Troienne Stakes.

Do I have all that right?

I was critical of Team Zenyatta for choosing to stay out West for the Vanity instead of coming to Churchill for the Foster. I will be equally as critical here.

I don't think I have to go into a long song-and-dance about why the Fleur de Lis is the easy way out. The decision speaks for itself. Had she won either of her first two races this year, I don't think there would be any question that Jess Jackson would have sent Rachel to the Foster. But when you have a Horse of the Year that is 0-for-2 the following season, I guess you get kind of timid and panicky. I wouldn't know. I never owned one or bought a horse for $10 million. I'm just guessing there.

I was told recently when debating this subject that, as an owner, horse racing is all about picking spots and making money. Nothing more, nothing less. For the most part I agree. Except when you are talking about a filly--not a stallion prospect--that has already established her market value. Except when a filly has already achieved a level of success that puts her in a separate category all her own. Except when the filly is reigning Horse of the Year. Except when the filly is owned by a billionaire.

No, the Fleur de Lis is not about finding a softer spot to pocket $120,000 in purse winnings. It's about making sure the reigning Horse of the Year picks up an easy victory so that she won't run the risk of going 0-for-3 in 2010. No matter that she turned in two solid efforts in the New Orleans Ladies and the La Troienne but just ran into a couple of horses that were on the top of their games those days and seems ready for a huge performance.

I was also told during another debate on this subject that I have no right to tell an owner where to race his horse. Unless I am paying the bills, I should just accept the decision and deal with it. Again, 99% of the time I agree. But not when you've raised the bar so high that fans come to expect level of competition from you. And not when you stood up on a podium and made statements about racing Zenyatta three times and ducked out of the first one a couple months ago at Oaklawn Park.

I get it. She needs a win. They have to rebuild her confidence. They have the rest of the year to take on the best horses. The ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup. I'm sure there is some validity to that line of thinking.

But as a racing fan, I am still entitled to feel disappointed about this decision. Especially after seeing what a stellar field they drew in the Foster and how Jackson made everyone wait until the last possible day to announce his intentions. It kind of takes some of the fun out of seeing her race, doesn't it? I'm guessing many of you feel the same way.

Only way I can figure is that Team Rachel thinks she is nowhere near the horse she was a year ago. What else are we supposed to think?

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