This story gets a little intricate, but try to stay with me, because, in the end, it’s the story of a good and smart woman doing the right thing.

Photo: Will Kenser

Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown, allows for only fourteen horses. When the owner of Rachel Alexandra, a fabulous filly who ran The Kentucky Oaks rather than the Kentucky Derby, announced that he would seek that jewel at Pimlico on Saturday, Mark Allen–the owner of Derby winner Mine that Bird–announced he’d enter a second, lesser colt as well, with the express purpose of keeping out Rachel Alexandra. He thought he had good reasons for doing so.

In the Derby, the jockey who rode Allen’s Mine That Bird to glory was Calvin Borel — who is also Rachel Alexandra’s jockey. Some believe his courageous ride was the only reason Mine That Bird finished first at Churchill Downs. He almost certainly would have chosen to ride the filly over Mine That Bird. That was reason enough.

But there’s much more. Rachel Alexandra is not a good race horse. She is potentially a great one: shortly before the Derby, she won the Kentucky Oaks by more than twenty lengths, leaving the other dozen or so horses so far behind she might as well have been alone.  That day, talk started of her being named Horse of the Year.

Mark Allen was willing to pay another entry fee for a second horse who had little chance of finishing strong, if its entrance would block Rachel Alexandra’s being entered. It would keep open the possibility of Mine That Bird becoming a Triple Crown winner. It would have been horrible for horse racing.

For a long time now, thoroughbred racing has been defining the word “doldrums.” Attendance has declined steadily in the past three decades. Betting is down. Interest in the sport is at a low point. Along comes a filly with desire in her veins, an animal that brings romantic attachments in the clouds of dust behind her. Now someone who makes his living in the sport thought about blocking a chance for a heroic performance, because it would lessen his own gelding’s chances to win the substantial purse. His investment, it seems to him, was worth more than the life of a sport that desperately needs heroes.

Sportsmanship is apparently a sinking ship. Sportswomanship is a different matter. Enter Marylou Whitney, owner of the sire of Mine That Bird, and thus someone whose financial interests could be said to be like Allen’s. In addition, Whitney had a horse entered in The Preakness as well.

LuvGuv. Photo: Cindy Pearson Dulay

Whitney’s colt, Lov Guv, is trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, who agreed with her that there was a genuine chance Lov Guv would finish in the money.

However,  Whitney knows horse racing is about more than money. She said she’d withdraw her colt if it would open up a slot or Rachel Alexandra to run.

Put another way, she would guarantee that she had no chance of winning the race, just because she knew Rachel Alexandra was good for racing.

It all worked out. Mark Allen got enlightened about character and The Big Picture, and is satisfied to run only his Derby winner. Hull, another horse that was a Preakness possibility, is not running. Ultimately there was plenty of room for Rachel Alexandra in the field, and Mary Lou Whitney’s Lov Guv will be there as well.

Many are saying horse racing got a black eye this week because of Allen’s shenanigans. Maybe, but it was more a case of one man in racing wearing blinders. It’s about the glory of the race, not the weight of the purse. Marylou Whitney knows that. and stood ready to sacrifice for that principle and the potential for witnessing greatness.

Once again, a woman dismissed greed as the great motivator. Once again, we salute the courage and wisdom of that action and celebrate the possibilities it opens.

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  • Dr Patricia Allen May 17, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    This season has really been about the romance of the big horse races:

    Mind That Bird and his intense, nothing left to lose jockey, Claude Borel,winning from a last place after pushing through that eye in the needle next to the rail. A 9500.00 horse and an insane jockey who knew what a horse he had been given to ride.

    But when Rachel Alexander got her chance to run in the Preakness Stakes, that same jockey, Calvin Borel,jumped at the chance to ride the best horse of his life. What a race! Mind That Bird did come from behind again and we all held our breath for just a moment. Then, Rachel Alexander proved her worth, stayed in front and her jockey had the second dream race of this season’s big ones.

    I think many of us want to be at the Belmont to see the last of the big races of the season. I haven’t felt that way for years. Horse racing and romance do belong together. And the paying public love the drama.

  • Willse Elizabeth May 16, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Reading and editing this post helped me in my weekly pub trivia contest. I got a question right about Luv Gov and the Preakness, which wouldn’t have been on my radar without Laura.