Smile Politely

The great virtual match race

ZenThe moment everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived. This Saturday, the undefeated Zenyatta and the dominating Rachel Alexandra will contend in a virtual match race; the 1 1/8-miles test will take place over two separate tracks in two separate states at two separate times… but it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to a real match-up, so you best enjoy it. Yes, while Zenyatta is attempting to make her 11th straight victory in her second Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, Rachel Alexandra will be facing a paltry field of four in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont. I can hear almost hear your squeals of delight: “Does it get better than this?”

At least when it comes to Rachel vs. Zenyatta, the answer is no, actually, it never will. While Rachel Alexandra is off gallivanting with either sexes in the dirt, Zenyatta is choosing to keep her prim toes rooted in California, where the closest thing to dirt she will see is the dust settling from Hollywood’s forthcoming demolition. The two are set on separate paths on opposite sides of the country, and if they venture on the paths set before them now, they’ll never actually have a meeting face-to-face.

Majority owner Jess Jackson announced this week that he would not enter Rachel in any of the Breeders’ Cup championships at Santa Anita this year, citing he planned on racing Rachel as a 4-year-old and would have a crack at next year’s Breeders’ Cup when it is run on traditional dirt at Churchill Downs, instead of Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride. “If I’m going to run [next year], the Breeders’ Cup is not that essential for her. I just don’t want to risk her. You may not think it’s a risk, but I saw what Curlin did and how he struggled and I saw four or five other horses that raced on plastic and they struggled. If it’s a dirt horse, it’s a dirt horse.”

Considering Jess Jackson had previously stated if he was to run Rachel on “the plastic,” it would be in the Classic, the two champions probably wouldn’t have met, anyway. John Shirreffs, the trainer of California Queen, Zenyatta, doesn’t want to “risk” racing his mare against the boys, even though he most recently admitted the colts are “weaker” than last year’s crop. The plan of attack for what is scheduled to be Zenyatta’s last starts as a race horse are an exact mirror of her 2008 campaign, leaving little to the imagination, and wasted time, if  you ask me. Does anybody really want to watch Zenyatta repeat what she did last year, only to a lesser effect, since most of the good race mares have been retired?

Shirreffs at one point had said he thought Zenyatta was better on the dirt, but he’s yet to put that theory to the test since her only start on the natural surface. It would’ve been a “really big shew” had Zenyatta been given that chance to prove herself, and against what most people consider to be “the best 3-year-old in the country” in Rachel Alexandra.

Instead, Rachel will be entering the historic Mother Goose Stakes against some decent fillies who have yet to find out why the boys cower in her presence. Of her four rivals, Malibu Moon and Flashing seem to pose the biggest threat of upset, if only because these two fillies are just embarking on their careers and are now finding consistent success. Don’t Forget Gill is coming off a loss in the Black-Eyed Susan, where she finished 31 lengths behind Payton d’Oro; before that, she won the Florida Oaks and finished with a runner-up performance to Dream Play in the Comely Stakes. If Rachel doesn’t make mincemeat out of this field, it’s because she’s fallen asleep looking at their stats.

It seems the biggest foe for Zenyatta is Allicansayis Wow, a mare with a lot of heart, who finished third most recently behind Zenyatta and Life is Sweet in the Milady. In the Milady, Allicansayis Wow stayed just off the pace in third, then put in a bid for the lead at the top of the stretch and lost it to the top two finishers in the final furlong. Now wise to the champion’s running style, Wow would be wise to hold off on that final plunge for the wire and wait until the Colossus is breathing down her neck.

Zenyatta will top the field carrying 129 pounds, while the next-highest weight has been assigned to Dawn After Dawn at 116 pounds. Allicansayis Wow will be carrying 113 in the Vanity.

So, if Rachel and Zenyatta are both running a 1 1/8 mile race, we can calculate a sort of “virtual match race” by comparing the times. If you’re swell at math, factor in the difference between a fast dirt track and a regular Pro-Ride time at that distance. If you can calculate that, call me and tell me who won; I’m worthless when it comes to math. I will say though, I got a hunch Zenyatta is going down.



The Grade I Mother Goose Stakes will be broadcast live from Belmont on TVG and HRTV. Post time is slated for approximately 5:17pm ET.

The Grade I Vanity Handicap will be broadcast live from Hollywood Park on TVG. Post time is scheduled for approximately 2:30pm PT.

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