Happy ending for fairy tale Preakness?

May 12, 2009 5:04 PM
Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein |

A heroine like Rachel merits finest finale

You know the story of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and you probably have heard the story by now of why the co-owner and trainer of the horse wear black hats.

Mark Allen, who owns half of Mine That Bird, was saved from jail when his father, former Alaska power broker Bill Allen, cut a deal with the feds to spare the son if Bill took the rap for bribing politicians in Alaska.

The early editions of the last Sunday’s New York Times ran a big front sports page story about how the trainer came to the rescue and saved Mark Allen from a nasty bar brawl 25 years ago.

Before the ink was dry on the story Mark, with his strong armed trainer still at his side, but his father not around to save him this time, stepped with both feet into what his horse had left on the sidewalk.

Allen made a phone call – and an ass of himself and an embarrassment to the world of horse racing – when he called Ahmed Zayed, the owner of the second place Kentucky Derby finisher Pioneer of the Nile, and asked him to enter another of his horses in Saturday’s upcoming second leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, the Preakness in an effort to block the super filly Rachel Alexandra from getting into the race. Allen planned to enter a maiden, Indy Express – winless in eight starts – in an attempt to fill the field and keep Rachel Alexandra out.

Only 14 can start in the Preakness, and horses that have been entered take precedence over those not nominated. Rachel Alexandra was one of those. Supplementary entries can be made eligible by payment of $100,000, however, and Rachel Alexandra’s new owner, Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson wine fame, who bought Rachel Alexandra after the Derby Oaks for what? $10 million? More? Probably not much less, said he would throw in the 100 grand to prove he had just bought the best thoroughbred race horse in the world.

Zayed didn’t waste much time in saying no to Mark Allen’s cheap shot proposal, or in letting the racing world know about Allen’s scurrilous call. He told the story on HRTV, the television racing channel, later in the day, and Allen’s no-class phone call became the shot heard round the racing world.

Vic Ziegel, the veteran racing columnist for the New York Daily News, wrote, "The owners of Mine That Bird, racing’s newest Cinderella, haven’t taken very long to turn that 50-1 fairy tale into a horror story. And even if their pitiful scheme fails, if the wonderful filly Rachel Alexandra does run in the Preakness, their horse will be remembered as the only Kentucky Derby winner owned by pigs."

Ziegel also wrote, "Racing was once known as – don’t laugh – the sport of kings, a gentleman’s game. Those days are a silent movie. Racing is now at the mercy of every guy who can find a drug store." The Post ran Ziegel’s story under the headline, Filly’s In After Wild Soap-Opera Day."

In England, under a blaring heading on Racing Post.com, writer Dan Farley wrote, "In a remarkable twist to the Preakness stakes, connections of leading contenders are threatening to gang up in an attempt to keep spectacular Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra out of the second leg of the Triple Crown."

There is a happy ending, and a true heroine, to the story.

Marylou Whitney is often called "The First Lady of U.S. racing," and she showed why last Sunday. She had planned to start her Wayne Lukas-trained Luv Gov, but her husband and stable manager, John Hendrickson, announced immediately that his wife would withdraw the horse if his entry threatened to force out Rachel Alexandra.

Ms. Whitney is sometimes painted as a flit-about socialite looking for publicity. I found out how wrong that designation was a few years ago, while visiting A Hole in the Woods, the wonderful camp near Saratoga Springs, NY, for young kids with cancer. It was founded by the late actor Paul Newman, and is one of the most inspiring places in the world. I was admiring the chapel built for the kids, and was told it has been a gift from Marylou Whitney.

For racing’s sake, let’s all hope Mark Allen’s call will be drowned out by Marylou Whitney’s response. And for the same reason, let’s all relish seeing Rachel Alexandra whip 13 colts on Saturday.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein