JC / Railbird

Jess Jackson

Jess Jackson, RIP

At the Eclipse Awards, January 2010.

It was announced today that owner Jess Jackson, 81, has died.

Since last summer, it had been apparent that Jackson was not well. He missed seeing Rachel Alexandra win at Monmouth in the Lady’s Secret Stakes in July, he wasn’t at Saratoga to watch her work in August. His wife, Barbara Banke, began to take a more prominent role in the stable. And deep in a Jay Hovdey column, published in DRF in January, was a discreet mention of the cancer he had previously beat into remission (via).

None of which dulled the shock on hearing of his passing.

Jackson liked to see his horses run, and he enjoyed seeing his horses tested. Bringing Curlin back as a 4-year-old in 2008 and campaigning Rachel Alexandra as he did in 2009 was sporting (even if it could be frustrating, waiting on him to say where and when one of his stars might start next). I’ll always remember the Woodward, the grandstand shaking from the force of the crowd rising and cheering for Rachel as she streaked down the stretch. Her 3-year-old HOTY campaign was bold and historic, a remarkable achievement.

They broke the mold with this guy,” eulogizes partner George Bolton.

More remembrances from friends and industry leaders …

4/24/11 Addendum: Joe Drape is out with an appraisal of Jackson’s racing career, which concludes:

Jackson, too, set some standards, one in particular that any horseplayer or horse lover can appreciate. He let his horses run instead of retiring them to the breeding shed and life as a pampered A.T.M. He ran them in the biggest races on the brightest stages. He didn’t worry if they got beat.

That quality was appreciated.

‘Rachel’ Returns to Monmouth

The day after Rachel Alexandra settled into her Saratoga stall for the summer, Monmouth Park tweeted that the reigning Horse of the Year would make her next start at the track on July 24, causing some confusion since there was no suitable stakes race scheduled for that Saturday. After looking at the schedule on the Monmouth website, and then checking for nominations on Equibase, I assumed she was starting in the ungraded Lady’s Secret Stakes on August 1, which would have been especially fitting, coming one year after the filly’s victory in the G1 Haskell.

I was half-right. The race was the nine-furlong Lady’s Secret, moved to the week before, as reported by Jeff Lowe. Majority owner Jess Jackson confirmed the planned start through a press release:

“We had a great experience at Monmouth Park … and we appreciate the overwhelming show of support the fans there have given us. It’s the perfect place to start what we hope will be another championship run.”

It’s strikingly strange that Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen would choose an ungraded race for distaffers, even one with a purse bumped to $400,000 from $150,000 (as long as Rachel Alexandra starts) for a filly chasing a second HOTY [or even champion older female honors], but Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina told the Thoroughbred Times it was all about timing:

“They’re very interested in keeping Rachel [Alexandra] on a five-week schedule,” Kulina said. “They worked back from the Breeders’ Cup because that’s their objective, and July 24 worked well for Steve’s pattern. The distance of 1 1/8 miles was what they wanted. We had contact with them long before this and told them we’d do whatever to make a race work with their schedule.”

The track also tried to entice Zenyatta to New Jersey, according to the Times, without success. Said racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs:

“They were nice about it, and they did call, but at this point in time it didn’t fit into what we want to do at this point in time.”

The SoCal star could start next at Del Mar.

So close! At this point, it’s starting to look like the only time Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta could meet is in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That’s a daring plan, if it’s what Jackson is thinking. But you have to wonder if he really is — running Rachel Alexandra in an ungraded stakes after her win in the G2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs last month isn’t much of a vote of confidence.

7:10 PM Update: NYRA reacts:

“We are puzzled and disappointed that Rachel Alexandra, who performed so well at Saratoga last year, is passing up the Grade 1 Ruffian to run in a non-graded race at Monmouth over the same distance,” NYRA president Charles Hayward said in a prepared statement. “We remain hopeful that the Saratoga fans will have the opportunity to see Rachel later in the meet.”

Maybe she’ll appear at Belmont.

Not So Blind

I knew I was in trouble with It’s Tea Time when her name kept surfacing in blog posts and tweets Saturday morning as a top Oaks pick. It was shades of Sweetnorthernsaint in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, watching the hype build. “It’s official: the first ‘blogger steam’ horse in history is It’s Tea Time,” remarked @HRFattheTrack. At 7-1, well down from her morning line odds of 15-1, the filly went into the gate as the third favorite.

Blind Luck, of course, was the favorite, and there was no doubt she was a deserving 6-5 at post time as she did her thing in the stretch, ranging up on the outside and nailing the win at wire by a nose over 13-1 Evening Jewel:

Final time for the race was 1:50.70 (chart), for which Blind Luck was given a Beyer speed figure of 94. The official teletimer photo:

Official teletimer photo from Churchill Downs of the 2010 Kentucky Oaks finish

It’s Tea Time? She finished ninth.

Earlier on the Churchill card, disappointment for HOTY fans: Rachel Alexandra lost her second start of the year, finishing a head behind 9-1 Unrivaled Belle in the LaTroienne Stakes, prompting Bill Finley — who must have had this piece already written, so quickly did it go up on the ESPN site — to opine,

The prudent course will probably soon become obvious to Asmussen and Jackson, and Rachel Alexandra will be retired. That sure seems like the right thing to do.

But Jess Jackson, in a post-race visit to the press box, said the 4-year-old filly appeared to come out of the race well and would remain in training:

Jess Jackson quotes

(Paulick Report video of the surprise press conference: Part 1, Part 2.)

While Jackson’s statements may seem a little rushed, I can’t fault him for wanting to check any speculation about retirement; Rachel Alexandra deserves another start. To paraphrase Jay Hovdey, she’s not running badly, she’s just not winning, and there are plenty of races remaining in the year.

11:00 AM Addendum: A final time of 1:42.97 for the LaTroienne, a Beyer speed figure of 103 for both Unrivaled Belle and Rachel Alexandra.

The Fun Is Over

Claire Novak is fed up with Jess Jackson’s coy refusals to announce yet where Rachel Alexandra is starting next. Enough, she writes:

Set a date for a press conference, make up your mind, and make the announcement. That’s what a true sportsman would do.

And that’s hardly the best part of the column.

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