Speculation is always fun when debating what would have happened if one great Super Bowl champion from the ’70s had played another from the ’90s, if a heavyweight champion from one era had fought another from a different time period and if a talented race horse that was scratched at the gate of last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic would have found a way to do something 11 other males couldn’t do that day — beat Zenyatta.
How about it? If Quality Road, a winner of 7 of 10 lifetime starts and an ultra-impressive winner of this year’s Donn Handicap and Met Mile, had not been scratched from the Classic last November at Santa Anita, would he have beaten the great Zenyatta, thus depriving the exceptional mare of her place in history as the only female to win the Classic?
The question was put to Todd Pletcher, trainer of Quality Road, this week as his talented colt prepared to meet five rivals in the $750,000 Whitney Invitational at Saratoga on Saturday.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I certainly think that he’s a horse that is good enough to do just about anything, as he’s proven in the Donn, the Met Mile and setting track records in the Florida Derby and the Amsterdam. I mean, he’s an extremely gifted animal.
“I just don’t know with the synthetic surface (how he would have run). It’s a special surface that some horses handle and some don’t, and from our experience with it, you really don’t know until you run on it. So it’s impossible to know (if he would have won), but I do know that he is talented enough to compete with anyone.”
It’s my opinion that Zenyatta would have charged past Quality Road in the stretch last fall as she did Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Einstein and Colonel John, among others. She was by far the best horse in America last year — male or female — on Breeders’ Cup day.
Now, if the two of them meet this year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, it’s a whole different ballgame. Quality Road is a year older, bigger and more mature. He’s a better race horse now than he was last November. That’s pretty apparent when you watch him run.
Is Zenyatta a better horse in 2010 than she was last fall? The jury is still out on that one because she’s 6 now and it’s impossible to tell how much this year’s campaign will have weighed on her come November.
If I had to pick a winner today, I’d go with the unbeaten horse who’s proven at 1 1/4 miles and who would be running over a preferred surface — dirt — as opposed to a synthetic surface that she doesn’t like but has managed to stay unbeaten over.
If they meet, it will be a heck of a horse race and likely will decide Horse of the Year laurels.