Lost rider, dream matchup, big weekend

With an impressive performance by Rachel Alexandra and a gritty, game win by Zenyatta now in the past the focus of the racing world is on one of the biggest weekends of the year, that surrounding the 4th of July.  However, it is Rachel Alexandra’s rider, Calvin Borel, who was back in the news on Tuesday.  His much-discussed decision to opt off of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness earned him praise but much more criticism.  He now may be heading towards a similar decision.   Borel is named  to ride Warrior’s Reward in Saturday’s Dwyer (G2) at Belmont and his trainer, Ian Wilkes, says that he received a two-race commitment from Borel and agent Jerry Hissam.  This whole situation begs the question: does Borel not think much of Mine That Bird?

If it is indeed true that Borel and Hissam made a two-race commitment to Wilkes, than they had to realize that the second of the two races was going to fall on the weekend of August 1st and 2nd.  Perhaps Borel knows that he’d opt off of the Derby winner should he meet up with Rachel Alexandra once again in the Travers.  Either way, if Borel is even thinking about riding a different 3YO right now, it doesn’t look like he’s terribly keen on the long-term prospects of the gelding by Birdstone.  It is obvious that Borel has a long-term relationship with Wilkes and his former boss, Carl Nafzger, however, this decision looks to have a number of interesting angles.

Before both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta won on Saturday, the latter’s owner, Jerry Moss, made his hopes for the two leading ladies in the land.   This was a tad stunning for those of us who saw the likelihood of Zenyatta leaving California about on par with John Shirreffs touring the country with U2.  However, it seems like Moss has a bit of sportsman in him.  Or is he now realizing that a pillow soft campaign that includes wins in the Milady, Vanity, Hirsch, Lady’s Secret and Ladies’ Classic is not Horse of the Year worthy when you have a filly doing special things on the opposite side of the country.  Either way, just the chance that these two great ladies may meet each other is encouraging.  We’re now learning that it probably won’t happen before the Breeders’ Cup, but here’s to hoping it will happen at some point.

There are four Grade I stakes races on tap and the graded stakes action starts on Friday with the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill and the Flawlessly at Hollywood.  Two Grade I stakes races will take place on Saturday with the Prioress at Belmont and the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth.  The former will be headlined by Acorn winner Gabby’s Golden Gal, as she seeks her second consecutive Grade I triumph.  The UN might be the most exciting race of the day as Presious Passion seeks back-to-back victories in the centerpiece of Monmouth’s turf stakes races.  He earned himself numerous fans with an incredibly game win in the Monmouth Stakes last month as he came back after being passed by a length in upper stretch.  He will face Grade I winner Court Vision, who’s seeking his first win of 2009 after placings in the Gulfstream Park Turf and the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

Sunday is American Oaks (G1) day as another strong rendition of this intriguing event looms.  The American contingent is headed up by Gozzip Girl, a multiple graded stakes winner who’s won three stakes events in a row on the weeds.  The West Coast hopefuls include Well Monied, who just scored in the Honeymoon Handicap and Mrs. Kipling, who’s fresh off a win in the Senorita.  The other Grade I stake at Hollywood is the Triple Bend at seven furlongs and the Hollywood program will feature a guaranteed Pick 6 pool of $300,000.

Wednesday’s Belmont program features the most interesting 2YO event of the year thus far in New York.  There should be turf racing as well, as the weather has largely held up over the last few days.

Here’s a look at the 2008 American Oaks, won by Pure Clan:

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