Zenyatta, Rachel no sure things in their 2010 debuts

When reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and the unbeaten Zenyatta make their scheduled returns to the track on March 13, there will be a pair of distaffers waiting in the wings to shock the world.

The connections for both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta should be afraid … very afraid. Or at the least, very respectful. Particularly Zenyatta, who most likely will face a 5-year-old mare in St Trinians who is as sharp as any horse currently running at Santa Anita.

Remember, St Trinians, who beat Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic champ Life Is Sweet in Saturday’s Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap while getting seven pounds from her rival, and the up-and-coming Clear Sailing, now three for four lifetime after winning Saturday’s Pelleteri Stakes at the Fair Grounds, will take on the two distaff giants of the racing world with a clear advantage in “now” form. They’ve both been racing, while Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have been on the sidelines.

Now, there’s no doubt here that trainers Steve Asmussen and John Shirreffs will have their horses geared up and ready to run, or they won’t race. They’re not going to take these talented opponents for granted, but that doesn’t mean that both St Trinians and Clear Sailing are not set up for top efforts that could mean trouble for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

Take St Trinians, for example. The daughter of Piccolo has won all four starts in this country since debuting for the Mike Mitchell barn in March 2009 at Santa Anita, gradually climbing up the class ladder until she beat the princess of Shirreffs’ barn on Saturday.

Now, she’s going to go after the queen in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13 if all goes according to plan.

“There’s no reason not to,” Mitchell said. “It should be fun, should make for a fun day. Nobody respects Zenyatta, John Shirreffs and that whole team more than me, but we can’t give it to them. We gotta make ’em earn it.”

Then there’s Clear Sailing, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly who closed from last to win the Pelleteri by a neck and perhaps earn herself a start in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at the Fair Grounds on March 13, which just happens to be Rachel Alexandra’s destination for her 2010 debut.

“If the timing is right and my horse is healthy and we can add to our horse’s resume, we won’t hesitate,” winning trainer Glenn Delahoussaye said. “I can’t worry about who else will be in there.”

So while we all eagerly anticipate the potential showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 9, let’s not forget that it’s not set in stone that Zenyatta will still be unbeaten or that Rachel Alexandra will have continued her winning ways by the time they collide.

There are a couple of distaffers named St Trinians and Clear Sailing, and likely a few more, who will be waiting to try to knock them off their perches atop the racing world.

It’s much tougher to stay on top when everyone is gunning for you than it is to reach the pinnacle.

Be afraid … be very afraid.

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