Too many owners taking cautious tack

Jess Jackson, owner of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, announced this week that the filly would not run in the Breeders’ Cup this fall at Santa Anita because of its synthetic surface.

The move would be OK, except for faulty reasoning.

Jackson wants to protect Rachel Alexandra, not because of her own history over synthetics, but because of Curlin’s.

Two-time Horse of the Year Curlin trained over synthetic surfaces last year but had never raced on one before running a poor fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Rachel Alexandra’s former trainer, Hal Wiggins, ran her on Polytrack in an allowance race at Keeneland, and she won easily. If anyone knows how well Rachel Alexandra handles synthetics, it’s Wiggins, not Jackson.

Jackson’s move probably precludes a dream matchup between Rachel Alexandra and champion mare Zenyatta at the Breeders’ Cup. Last year, the two best male horses in training, Big Brown and Curlin (also owned by Jackson), never met.

Nowadays, horse owners and trainers look for reasons not to compete. Trainers want to keep their win percentages above 20 percent. Owners don’t want a loss blemishing a top horse’s past performances and hurting its value in the breeding shed.

I yearn for some old-school horsemanship, for handlers who understand the sport is built on trying to win, not avoiding losses.

In a way, I miss the mentality of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. For all his pluses and minuses, he never ducked a race or another man’s horse. He played to win.

What a novel philosophy.

• BRIDGE JUMPERS — Last week I wrote about bridge jumpers — or people who bet unusually large amounts on one horse — and they struck again Sunday at Belmont Park. Race favorite Cocoa Beach ran last in a four-horse field after $198,846 was bet on her out of $217,905 in the place pool. The $2 place payouts were a generous $25.20 and $33.80.

• CONTESTS — Two big-money handicapping contests are on tap next month.

The Red Rock Firecracker Shootout is July 4 and 5. Entry is restricted to members of the NHC Tour, which anyone can join for $125.

The Gold Coast Summer Classic will be July 23 to 25. The top five finishers earn a berth into the Horseplayer World Series from Feb. 18 to 20 at The Orleans.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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