After last fall’s Breeders’ Cup, I went on record as saying I thought Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra deserved to be co-Horses of the Year. Neither distaffer had done anything wrong in 2009, both were brilliantly perfect, and I didn’t think either deserved to win the nod over the other.
But, given the fact that Eclipse Award voters could not split their vote, I went with Zenyatta because she won the biggest race of the year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in a race that included the top male horses in the country and she’d also spotted other fillies and mares weight as part of her 5-0 campaign.
I also wrote a column three weeks ago, calling Zenyatta the best horse I’d ever seen run in person. Needless to say, I received a lot of feedback from fans who took issue with my stance, asking how I could say she was better than Secretariat and Affirmed.
Simple, folks. She’s never lost. She’s 16-0. Whereas most great horses sometimes don’t feel like running or don’t give their best effort for whatever reason, Zenyatta has fired every single time, whether it be soft fractions, fast fractions or somewhere in between. She’s never had an off-day, and to me, that’s remarkable.
She receives undue criticism because she’s won 14 of her 16 races on synthetics. Well, that just shows how great she is because she much prefers dirt over artificial tracks. Get her on dirt, and she’s even better. Proof? Her two victories in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park this year and in 2008 were the only times in her career she’s won by better than four lengths.
Less than an hour ago, Rachel Alexandra made her second start of 2010 and was upset again, losing to Unrivaled Belle as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 2 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs after losing to Zardana as the 1-9 favorite in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds in her first race of the year on March 13.
Rachel Alexandra was a brilliant 3-year-old, one of the best of all-time. But so far, she’s failed to carry that 3-year-old form over to her 4-year-old campaign. She’s starting to concede weight to horses, giving four pounds to the winner today. That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s the great equalizer in horse racing.
There is much speculation going around today that majority owner Jess Jackson will now call it quits with Rachel Alexandra, that if he goes on with her and she loses again her legacy will be diminished. There’s something to that, but I also feel that if she’s sound, they need to go on with her to prove to her legion of fans that she can indeed win at 4.
Right now, if Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were to hook up on the race track, it would be no contest. Zenyatta would eat Rachel for lunch. I’m not so sure you could have said that last fall after Jackson’s brilliant Medaglia d’Oro filly had beaten the boys in the Woodward Stakes.
But that was then, and this is now. Until Rachel Alexandra proves she can beat older horses and spot them weight, she’ll go down as one of the greatest 3-year-olds ever but won’t deserve consideration for all-time top horses like Zenyatta.
The two super distaffers were a match made in heaven last year, but it would be the mismatch of the decade if they met on the race track anytime soon.