When genders collide
I wasn’t sure if perhaps a horse had broken down.
Woodbine track announcer Dan Loiselle’s voice was hard to hear, but something he said and something that was happening on the grandstand turn far from view prompted a reaction from the crowd that was immediate, absolute and universal.
Whatever it is about a filly beating male horses that gets the collective juices flowing was on full display at the $1 million Queen’s Plate in Toronto on Sunday, where I wound down vacation with a side trip to watch the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
“Here comes the Oaks winner, Lexie Lou …” Loiselle told everyone, and with that, the crowd roared in a way reminiscent of Rags to Riches’ win over Curlin in the Belmont Stakes, and Rachel Alexandra over Macho Again in the Woodward at Saratoga.
Sonically, they were different, the latter two a growing tidal-wave roar down the stretch, and Lexie Lou’s a loud, explosive gasp as she made her big move on the turn.
I couldn’t really hear Dan Loiselle, but I heard that.
It was similar to the others because clearly, the fans were rallying around a filly trying to beat male horses — 14 of them — in a big race.
The 146th Saratoga meet begins next Friday, and there’s a filly on the grounds who could recapture the hearts of racing fans in much the same way that Rachel did in 2009. Untapable has won her last four races, including the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose, by a combined 311⁄4 lengths,
If she runs against males in her next start, it won’t be at Saratoga, but in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. The other option is to stay in her division and run in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 20.
She had been considered for the Preakness, just as her trainer, Steve Asmussen did with Rachel, who won the second leg of the U.S. Triple Crown as well as the Haskell and Woodward on her way to Horse of the Year.
Lexie Lou’s trainer, Mark Casse, can appreciate why the public loves a filly who is so fast and dominant as to entertain notions of running against the other gender.
“If you noticed, in the post parade, when they said her name, she got a big reaction,” he said after the Queen’s Plate. “Honestly, I didn’t hear a lot after that.
“There was a lot of criticism after Eight Belles was injured, that a filly shouldn’t run against colts. I’m just going to tell you this right now: that’s a bunch of baloney. That has nothing to do with anything.”
Eight Belles, of course, was trainer Larry Jones’ prized filly who finished second to Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, but snapped both forelegs in the gallop-out and had to be euthanized.
Jones received death threats for having run her in the Derby and briefly retired from training before returning.
It’s not nearly so unusual to see females race against males in Europe and even Canada, where 35 fillies have won the Queen’s Plate in 155 years.
Ria Antonia ran in this year’s Preakness, and that was just a bad idea (she finished last of 10), but Lexie Lou won the Woodbine Oaks in a time that was a second faster than We Miss Artie ran on the same card. She belonged in the Queen’s Plate, and the morning line and bettors agreed, each making her the second choice behind We Miss Artie.
“It’s a big [scheduling] chore,” Casse said. “We don’t get this in the United States. The Kentucky Oaks winner can’t go back in the Kentucky Derby because it runs too close. And it’s a shame, because you would see more fillies tackle the boys. I think it’s great for racing.
“The fillies can play with the boys all the time. The reason they don’t is we don’t have to. We normally run them in their categories because it’s easier for them. But as I said [Saturday], there’s only one Queen’s Plate.”
It doesn’t appear that Lexie Lou will run in Canada’s second leg, the Prince of Wales. That’s asking her to run the Oaks, Plate and a third race in too short a time, Casse said, and the conventional dirt at Fort Erie is unfamiliar to her.
More likely, she’ll wind up at Del Mar, where Casse is taking his U.S. string instead of Saratoga this year. He’ll be able to take advantage of the final season of Polytrack before Del Mar returns to dirt next year. Woodbine, Casse’s home base, is synthetic, and he said he doesn’t want “to mess with Untapable.”
It’s all part of managing a good horse, and when that means that genders collide as a byproduct, the public takes extra notice.
Untapable is scheduled to breeze at Saratoga before a decision is made on her next start. If we don’t see her race there, it’ll probably be because Asmussen and owner Ron Winchell send her to Monmouth for the July 27 $1 million Haskell, with visions of Horse of the Year.
When you have a filly as talented as this, you have to explore every possibility.