Racing fans were bestowed with a double-header treat last Saturday when the nation’s top two female horses destroyed their competition, proving once again the girls rule over the boys in 2009. While on the West coast, Zenyatta racked up her 11th straight victory, carrying the top weight of 129 pounds to win her second Grade I Vanity Handicap, Rachel Alexandra made laughing-stocks of the two fillies who dared to challenge her in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes, breaking the stakes record while romping home by 19 ¼ lengths.
And what about that virtual match race, comparing the two fillies’ times as they both ran 1 1/8th miles? If synthetics are truly faster than dirt, Zenyatta better watch out if she really does meet Rachel in the flesh. While the five-year-old champ ran 1:48.15 over Hollywood Park’s all-weather Cushion Track, the three-year-old boy-beater blazed 1:46.33 over Belmont’s good old fashioned dirt. That’s right; Rachel Alexandra ran almost two full seconds faster than the California Colossus. What’s more is that Rachel won the Mother Goose geared-down. Had her regular rider, Calvin Borel, actually asked her to run in the final furlong, she most likely would’ve beaten the track record, set by the legendary Secretariat at 1:45.40. “Wow horse,” you ask? No doubt about it. Rachel Alexandra is the stuff of dreams.
Ever since Rachel’s dominating win, the kettle has been boiling over in the racing world about the possible match-up between the two champs. While at first, Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs, squashed any hopes of there being a real grudge match, saying she would stay put in California for the rest of the year (and her career), her owner, Jerry Moss, has now capsized Shirreffs’s meager little calendar. Moss said there’s a “good chance” he would take Zenyatta out of California, and that he “would very much like” to see the two fillies face each other. And while we shouldn’t get our hopes up yet, as Shirreffs quickly set down the gauntlet for Zenyatta’s next start, the Clement Hirsch, (the same path as last year) one new development has arisen in all of this that could be worth all the speculation and bickering: it’s become more evident to Moss that if he really wants his mare to win the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year with Zenyatta, he’s going to have to at least race her against the boys. Ergo, he’s now pointing the unbeaten Queen of California to the Breeders’ Cup Classic instead of the Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita. If Zenyatta never met Rachel, I could stomach that if only the big mare finally dueled with the boys.
If Zenyatta faced males for the first time, we would see her put in a situation she’s never been in before. Fortunately, last year’s Ladies’ Classic held a phenomenal line-up of fillies and mares, but the race was biased thanks to the Pro-Ride surface. The races will be held at the same track this year, but this time, the horses aiming toward the Classic will be horses who have liked the surface. We’re talking about Mine That Bird and Einstein. Though Einstein is no Curlin, he’s probably a more versatile horse than Curlin was, having won Grade I races on the turf and synthetics, while winning big dirt races like the Grade II Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last year. And you can bet the English horses will be packing their bags for California come fall, so Zenyatta essentially should be pitted against a field chock-full of talent that loves the surface, as well.
So while Zenyatta’s calendar now looks like she won’t be facing Rachel before the Breeders’ Cup, there might be hope the two could meet afterwards. Certainly, a race between the two would put things into greater perspective should Rachel win say, the Travers against the boys, and Zenyatta the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Otherwise, my vote goes to Rachel Alexandra. Sorry, Zenyatta. I personally believe a horse who’s raced for only half a year, on the same schedule as last year, doesn’t measure up to a horse that’s been competing all year long, against the most talented fields, and has raced in five different states in one year. And if you want to compare records, Rachel is perfect at 6-6 this year, while Zenyatta is also perfect with 2-2; those numbers speaks volumes when it comes to the Eclipse, and you can bet they will be looked at when it comes to voting time. Of course, should Zenyatta actually meet with Rachel, the gesture should give her a leg up in voting.
That is, if she’s able to beat the newly-minted “living legend” in Rachel Alexandra.