It’s been a little more than three months since Rachel Alexandra won out over Zenyatta in a spirited Horse of the Year race that was as hotly debated as any in recent memory.
Since that January night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California, Zenyatta has run her record to 16-0 with a pair of Grade 1 victories while Rachel Alexandra was upset in her 2010 debut at the Fair Grounds on March 13 and hasn’t raced since.
Zenyatta will probably make her third start of the year in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on June 13 at Hollywood Park if she’s not assigned the grandstand when weights are issued. The Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs the day before also is a possibility.
When Rachel Alexandra races again is anybody’s guess. Owner Jess Jackson is not talking, and he — not trainer Steve Asmussen — is usually the one who announces where and when the 4-year-old filly will run next.
On Wednesday, during opening day of Hollywood Park’s spring-summer meet in front of a sparse on-track turnout of 3,487, Zenyatta’s trainer John Shirreffs was asked if he harbors any bitterness over the fact his 6-year-old mare has two Breeders’ Cup victories, including the first ever by a female in the prestigious Classic, and 16 wins without a defeat but zero Horse of the Year titles.
“It’s hard to have any bitterness when it involves Zenyatta,” Shirreffs said. “She’s such a special gift and we’re really blessed to have her. And you know, that’s (Horse of the Year vote) a popularity poll. The other filly accomplished a lot, and the arguments go both ways. We’re just happy Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and accomplished so much.”
Despite the fact Zenyatta’s won both her starts on dirt by more than four lengths, there are still skeptics out there who label her a synthetic-track specialist. Never mind the victories were the only races she’s won by more than four lengths, they refuse to give her any credit.
Shirreffs only smiles when reminded of this. He, along with everyone else who has seen the daughter of Street Cry run on a regular basis, know she’s a better horse on dirt. She’s actually compromising her chances when she runs on a synthetic surface. She’s won twice over a track — Del Mar — that she detests.
“We always said she liked dirt, that it was her preferred surface, but that’s not what we have here (in California),” Shirreffs said. “She’s just so talented.”
Despite published reports, Shirreffs says a decision hasn’t been made whether Zenyatta will run in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 or the Ladies’ Classic the day before. He’s taking each race one at a time.
“It’s (too) early,” he said. “I think she accomplished so much last year it’s not about what she can accomplish this year, it’s more about letting other people enjoy her and let the fans have some fun with her.”
Shirreffs said Zenyatta will race outside of California again before the Breeders’ Cup, that his wife Dottie, who serves as racing manager for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, has every condition book from around the country on her desk to help pick and choose.
“She knows what’s going on,” Shirreffs said.
Still, he and the Mosses don’t want to keep Zenyatta on the road the rest of the year.
“You can’t ship every race, that’s impossible,” he said.