Latest NTRA poll

There was no change in the top seven positions in this week’s NTRA rankings after top-rated Rachel Alexandra put on a tremendous show in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park, winning by a stakes-record 19 1/4 lengths in a stakes-record time of 1:46.33 for the 1 1/8 miles. Meanwhile, Zenyatta staged her usual steady late charge to mow down the leaders and win the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park by 2 1/2 lengths.

The rankings, including first-place votes in parenthesis, age, 2009 record, points total and last week’s ranking:

1. Rachel Alexandra (10) 3-F 6-6-0-0 193 1
2. Zenyatta (8) 5-M 2-2-0-0 187 2
3. Well Armed (2) 6-G 3-1-1-0 144 3
4. Einstein (1) 7-H 4-2-0-2 140 4
5. Mine That Bird 3-G 5-1-2-1 121 5
6. Macho Again 4-C 4-2-0-1 58 6
7. Gio Ponti 4-C 3-2-0-0 54 7
8. Fabulous Strike 6-G 3-1-2-0 37 10
9. Bribon 6-G 5-3-0-0 36 8
10. Summer Bird 3-C 5-2-0-1 34 9

Rachel camp ducking Zenyatta?

OK, there’s one theory floating around out there that says Rachel Alexandra’s co-owner, Jess Jackson, wants no part of the unbeaten Zenyatta, that he’s using the synthetic track angle as a way to avoid meeting her on the track.

It’s an interesting thought, whether it has any validity or not. I mean, Rachel’s handlers could keep entering 3-year-old races the rest of the way and there’s no way Zenyatta’s camp could oppose her, even if they wanted. Rachel could go in races like the Haskell, Travers, Alabama … any number of them … and avoid having to meet the monster that is Zenyatta.

There’s no doubt these two distaffers are the two leading contenders for Horse of the Year and they are also the two most popular race horses in America today. This is something that is great for horse racing. It’s got people talking about the sport, with topics ranging from Jackson’s refusal to race over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride synthetic in the Breeders’ Cup to who would win if the two super stars ever meet.

There are many who wonder why Jackson would announce to the world five months in advance that he’s not going to the Breeders’ Cup. What if something happened to Zenyatta before then, or if Zenyatta’s owner and trainer decided they were going to run in the Classic against the boys — a real possibility folks — and not the Ladies’ Classic? Wouldn’t that make the Ladies’ Classic a much easier proposition for Rachel Alexandra?

Last year, Jackson kept saying “been there, done that” in regards to whether Curlin was going to run in the Breeders’ Cup. Of course, he relented and his talented colt finished fourth with no excuses. Of course, his camp used the excuse that he didn’t like the synthetic, but truth is he just wasn’t good enough that day.

It’s getting more and more interesting, folks, and the Super Bowl of horse racing — i.e. the Breeders’ Cup — is still five months away.

Two remarkable distaffers romp again

If you didn’t see Zenyatta win Saturday’s Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park by 2 1/2 lengths, jockey Mike Smith eased up in the saddle, or Rachel Alexandra absolutely destroy her two rivals in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park, here’s your chance. One thing’s for certain — no matter which distaffer you prefer, they’re both marvelous race horses and a pleasure to watch:

Moss not crazy about synthetics either

When the California Horse Racing board adopted the rule at its May 2006 meeting that California race tracks had to install synthetic surfaces in order to be granted racing dates, Jerry Moss was the only commissioner present who raised any objection at all. He wanted further study done. Racing executives the likes of El Halpern (CTT), Howard Zucker (trainer/CTT board member), Drew Couto (TOC), Craig Fravel (executive vice president of Del Mar), Ron Charles (Santa Anita president) and Darrell Haire (jockeys guild) all got up and spoke and supported the mandate.

Now, more than three years later, Moss is not only expressing mild concerns, but it appears he’s moved further away from the notion that artificial surfaces are good for the sport. This is pretty astounding too when you consider that Moss’ brilliant, unbeaten mare Zenyatta has won 10 of her 11 races over synthetic surfaces. It seems if anything he’d love the fake stuff and be extolling its virtues all over town. Not so.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, after Zenyatta raised her career mark to 11-0 with another superior come-from-behind performance in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap, Moss was asked if it bothered him that Rachel Alexandra’s co-owner Jess Jackson had alluded that Zenyatta was a synthetics track specialist, i.e. could only win on artificial surfaces. Of course, Jackson has never said anything of the sort, but Moss answered the question nonetheless.

“Is he implying that? I don’t know, I didn’t get that,” he said. “She won at Oaklawn (2008 Apple Blossom Handicap, she beat (Ginger Punch) pretty good, so I think that exonerates her from that premise.”

But Moss made it clear he wasn’t bothered by Jackson’s refusal to send Rachel Alexandra to the Breeders’ Cup in November at Santa Anita because Jackson doesn’t like “plastic tracks.”

“Quite honestly, he can say whatever he likes,” Moss said. “He owns a great filly and she’s doing well. She won very easily today (Mother Goose). I mean, I’m not too crazy about the synthetic tracks either so I don’t mind him talking up about that. Maybe it will serve a purpose, and hopefully we’ll meet somewhere. If it’s not the Breeders’ Cup, maybe it will be somewhere else.”

One Breeders’ Cup official believes Jackson’s assertion that Rachel Alexander will not run in the Breeders’ Cup is not cast in stone, that as the date (Nov. 6-7) draws nearer, he could change his mind. Remember, last year at this time Jackson was throwing out catch phrases like “been there, done that” in regards to whether Curlin would run in the Breeders’ Cup. He showed up and finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

No chance for match race between Zenyatta, Rachel

A match race between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra will not happen. No chance, according to owner Jerry Moss. But the Zenyatta camp is not adverse to heading east and taking on Rachel Alexandra sometime before the Breeders’ Cup, according to trainer John Shirreffs.

Zenyatta didn’t win by 19 1/4 lengths like Rachel Alexandra in the Mother Goose today, but the 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry beat far stronger opposition in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park by 2 1/2 lengths eased up in the final eighth. Mike Smith never had to get into her. Rachel went a stakes record 1:46.33 for the 1 1/8 miles at Belmont Park and Zenyatta traveled the same distance in 1:48.15 over the Cushion Track.

Afterward, Moss told the media they want to follow a different path with Zenyatta this year, meaning it just won’t be the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, the Lady’s Secret at Oak Tree and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic to wind up Zenyatta’s career. Moss mentioned the Pacific Classic against the boys as a possibility. Both Moss and trainer John Shirreffs seemed more eager to consider other options besides the safe ones now that she’s got two races under her belt in 2009.

Shirreffs said there is a chance they might send Zenyatta back east for a battle with Rachel at some point, but he said there is no chance it will be the $1 million Delaware Handicap at 1 1/4 miles for fillies and mares. One thing is certain — Moss values Shirreffs’ judgement greatly and won’t do anything against his trainer’s wishes. And of course, Zenyatta’s well being is first and foremost on their minds. Likewise Rachel Alexandra and her camp.

Whatever, things got a lot more interesting today. Zenyatta is now 11-0 in her career and 2-0 in 2009, and Rachel is 6-0 this year, including victories by 20 1/4 and 19 1/4 lengths and a win against the boys in the Preakness. Overall, Rachel has won 9 of 12 starts with two seconds and a sixth-place finish in her career bow on May 22, 2008 at Churchill Downs. She’s won seven consecutive races.

Let’s get these two together, guys.

Rachel Alexandra …. WOW!!!

Four minutes to post for the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park and Zenyatta has a tough act to follow. Rachel Alexandra just absolutely put on an amazing show in the Mother Goose, winning by a double-digit margin again (Belmont track announcer Tom Durkin called it 20 lengths again). Sure, there were only two other horses in the race, but the manner in which she beat them was mighty impressive. She ran the 1 1/8 miles in a stakes record time of 1:46 1/5.

For the good of the sport, for the racing fans, these two magnificient distaffers — Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta — have got to meet sometime this year. They are the two most popular horses in training and it would be an absolutely huge race that would attract all sorts of attention.

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Here’s one idea of Jess Jackson’s I like

No, I don’t agree with co-owner Jess Jackson’s decision to skip the Breeders’ Cup with Rachel Alexandra in November at Santa Anita, and I don’t go along with his assertion that it was the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita that got Curlin beat in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Curlin was a very good colt, but I think Jess has the horse on a little bit higher pedestal than he belongs. He’s not one of the all-time best. Not even close.

One area I do agree with Jackson on is that this sport needs a national ruling body so everyone plays by the same set of rules and can’t be feigning ignorance when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar when racing outside their jurisdiction. Here’s what Jackson had to say on a national teleconference this week on the subject of slots at race tracks:

“I look at the slots and gambling as an interim, short-term solution to racing,” he said. “I think the long-term future of racing is best served if we can get together voluntarily and form a league, have a commissioner, get uniform laws and have uniform enforcement across the United States as they do in other nations. But because of the separation of powers and the preservation of rights to different states, that may not be happening, at least in a constitutional way at the federal level so therefore I think it’s incumbent upon the racing committee to solve that problem, do it voluntarily and have internal regulations and compliance the way professional golf, the NBA and the National Football League, etc. do it.”

Makes sense to me. If challenged, would such a setup hold up in the courts? I don’t know. I’m skeptical, but I do know that horse racing needs a commissioner who can get this sport back on its feet with some good, sound decisions. We’ve had too many people making the wrong decisions for a while now, and that’s why horse racing is in the shape it’s in.

I like a horse in tonight’s sixth at Hollywood Park

Her name is Atta Lora. She’s trained by Patricia Harrington and will be ridden by Alex Solis. She finished fourth — beaten five lengths — last time out in a 14-horse field on May 30 at Hollywood Park, raced in tight quarters and was four-wide turning for home. I think she gets there tonght with a better trip and the extra half-furlong. She went postward at 6-1 last time and is the third choice on the morning line tonight at 7-2. Hopefully, I’ll get 3-1 or better.

Borel on Rachel: Preakness score most impressive

I asked Calvin Borel, jockey for the star 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, to rate her victories this year during a national teleconference this week. Borel has been aboard Rachel Alexandra for her past six starts and will ride her again Saturday in the $300,000 Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park.

Rachel Alexandra’s most powerful victory? The Oaks.

“When she won the Oaks, she was right that day, Borel said. “She was just unbelievable. The Preakness, believe me, when she won by a length and a half, we could have gone another round and I don’t think they’d have had a horse get by her. Because I know when they are going to come and eyeball this filly, she will make you choke before you get by her, I can promise you that. You better be ready.”

Borel rates the Preakness as her most impressive victory because she overcame adversity and still beat the boys after setting some serious fractions while going gate to wire.

“The last quarter-mile, when it was time to go with her, she was just doing what she had to do and I think she kind of struggled a little bit because when I pulled her up, that was the first time she was ever exhausted like she was,” Borel said. “I know how she is, and when I got back she was almost like having a little heat stroke, she had trouble, but then I walked her a little while and we put some water on her and she was fine.”

Co-owner Jess Jackson agrees the Preakness might not have been as powerful a victory as the Oaks, but it was more impressive because she won despite not handling the track all that well.

“I think she won that on raw courage and ability, and thank goodness Calvin was on her,” Jackson said.

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Jackson’s a little bit off on his homework

Jess Jackson, co-owner of Rachel Alexandra, did his best to try to convince national turf writers that skipping this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita is the right thing to do during a teleconference this week. Problem was, he was a little off on some of his facts.

Example #1: When explaining why he did not want Rachel Alexandra to run over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface even though she won by 3 1/2 lengths over the Polytrack at Keeneland as a 2-year-old, Jackson said: “She had no competition, it was a maiden race and she did it mainly on her athletic skill. With no relative competition it was an easy win for her.” Actually, it was a first-level allowance race, not a maiden event. Who knows, Rachel Alexandra might be even better on synthetics than dirt. It’s possible.

Example #2: Talking about Rachel Alexandra possibily running as a 4-year-old, Jackson said the lure of racing in the Breeders’ Cup on dirt at Churchill Downs in 2010 would be a huge incentive to keep the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro around for another year. “I’d love to be there, and maybe that’s where Zenyatta can meet us someday,” Jackson said. Uh, Jess, Zenyatta is a 5-year-old and her connections have already said this is her last year of racing.

I can’t blame Jess Jackson for doing what he thinks is best for his filly, but to hide behind Curlin’s loss last year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, saying it was the track that got him beat, is just plain wrong. Curlin had never run on a synthetic. Rachel Alexandra has and did quite well. I can understand Jackson not wanting to stable his filly at a venue that has an artificial track and race her continually over synthetics, but a one-time deal? During the Super Bowl of horse racing? Not going is the wrong decision.