Major League Baseball fans can relate to what I’m about to ponder. The Yankees are looked at as the evil empire, and despite a recent poll, are the most hated team in baseball.
Is Jess Jackson the evil empire of horse racing?
If you don’t know who Jess Jackson is, he’s the guy behind the superhorses Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. He’s the guy who bought both of those horses from their previous owners. He was part of a group that bought Curlin for $3.5 million, then Jackson eventually bought out other people’s stock in the horse. He bought Rachel Alexandra for what was rumored to be upwards of $10 million.
$10 million for one horse? That’s crazy talk.
Don’t get me wrong. Elite horse racing is a rich man’s game. But I still have to wonder if Jackson’s tactics are bad for the sport.
There’s no doubt that Curlin was worth the purchase price. He’s now the winningest colt in American horse racing history, in terms of purse money. He’s the kind of horse that draws crowds, and big crowds at that. His offspring will certainly create quite a buzz around the industry.
But was Rachel Alexandra worth the price? Sure she won Horse of the Year in 2009, and won the Preakness last year as well. That wasn’t the only time she beat colts. She also won the Woodward and the Haskell.
But she’s yet to run in a Breeder’s Cup race. Why? Because Jackson has refused to run her due to the Breeder’s Cup being held at a track with a synthetic racing surface (Santa Anita). He made that decision even though Rachel showed that she can run over the fake stuff, winning an allowance race at Keeneland as a 2-year-old.
I called him out once already for skipping the Breeder’s Cup. I thought it was bad for the game. Just because Curlin didn’t win his Breeder’s Cup race over the Santa Anita track doesn’t mean that Rachel Alexandra couldn’t handle it.
At the same time, it’s hard to tell someone they’re wrong for doing what they want with something they own. Horses are a HUGE investment (especially when you spend $10 million on one). Frankly, they’re a huge gamble as well. Any horse’s career or life could come to an end with one bad step.
But as a fan of horse racing, I want to see the best compete against the best. Jackson failed me again this spring, when he pulled Rachel out of the Apple Blossom Invitational. Rachel was supposed to run against Zenyatta. But Rachel lost her first start of the year, the New Orleans Ladies (a race created specifically for Rachel), and Jackson immediately pulled her out of her date with Zenyatta.
The game desperately needs a shot in the arm, and a Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta matchup would have gone a long way in revitalizing the general sports fan’s interest in the sport. It would harken the sport back to the days of Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral.
Yeah. That kind of impact.
As of a few days ago, Jess Jackson is back at it, buying a portion of recently-retired racehorse Eskendereya. Eskendereya was going to be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby this year before he came up with a leg injury. That same injury has forced the horse to be retired from racing, and he’ll now stand to stud (meaning he’s available for breeding). Jackson bought in to reap the financial benefits of Eskendereya’s breeding.
So, do you see the parallels between Jess Jackson and the New York Yankees? Hell, the Yankees are more “innocent” in my eyes, because they’ve at least developed some of their own talent (Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Cano, Hughes, etc). Jackson waits for other horses to have success before making offers nobody can refuse.
I don’t think anyone can do anything about it, but it still sucks.