August 12, 2009

The Year of the Filly and the Mare : Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta’s Place in History

Miss Woodford, Beldame, Regret, Busher, Twilight Tear, Gallorette, Gamely, Dark Mirage, Gallant Bloom, Shuvee, Susan’s Girl, Desert Vixen, Ruffian, Genuine Risk, Princess Rooney, Lady’s Secret, Personal Ensign and Go For Wand. The greatest females of American racing. These fillies and mares so dominated their competition at classic distances on the foremost surface of United States racing, that they will be forever remembered as all-time greats. Who is missing from the list?

Before you start rattling off names of your favorite filly or mares that I neglected to include, (sorry, I wanted to keep the list short and sweet and some difficult decisions had to be made) my answer is Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

That’s right, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta already have accomplished enough to be included in my list of the 20 greatest American female horses of all time. I can already here the doubters and the protectors of history rumbling with all their arguments at the ready. These horses are still racing, what if they start losing? Just who have they beaten? Racing is not the same as it used to be, surely these two are not as good as some of the ones I saw race in the good ol’ days. One of them maybe, but I do not like the other one as much. OK, OK, I hear you. Fair arguments all, but I will do my best to dissuade even the harshest of critics.

It is true that these two remarkable females are currently in training and their race records will undoubtedly soon change. They may strengthen their claims to history or they may weaken their position with their performances in future races, but my stance is; if either were retired tomorrow their accomplishments would already be sufficient for this lofty stature.

Zenyatta has already won her first twelve races, the last ten being all Grade 1’s or Grade 2’s. She is an eclipse award winner and a Breeder’s Cup Distaff champion. The closest comparison in history to Zenyatta is clearly Personal Ensign. Personal Ensign completed her magnificent career twenty years ago a perfect 13 for 13. She received one eclipse award as outstanding handicap mare, losing out the Horse of the Year award to the outstanding older horse Alysheba, won one Breeder‘s Cup race and ten graded stakes. Sound familiar? Personal Ensign finished her career winning a memorable Breeder’s Cup Distaff by getting up in the last jump to catch the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. She did defeat males once in winning the sloppy Whitney, but her detractors pointed out her careful race selection, lack of racing outside the East Coast and her limited schedule much the way Zenyatta is criticized today. With the important place synthetic racing holds in current American racing, Zenyatta should not be discounted for running most of her races on synthetics. Remember also, that Zenyatta’s one foray on a dirt track is one of her most impressive wins easily beating the champion Ginger Punch. She has beaten all of the top fillies and mares of the past few years save Rachel Alexandra. Zenyatta’s current accomplishments may be a shade below that of Personal Ensign, but close enough to already ensure her place in history.

As for Rachel Alexandra, her accomplishments in the last eight races are so impressive that she is hard to compare to many female horses in American history. The superstar Ruffian and the great Regret are in many ways incomparable, but young Rachel Alexandra is quickly moving in that direction. Regret who raced almost a century ago, was so talented that her connections were confident in running her against the best males of her generation. Her speed and ability carried her to a Kentucky Derby win and nine wins in only eleven races. In just those eleven races, Regret, like Rachel Alexandra, became a filly that will not be forgotten, due to her consistent excellence and partially because of her historic win in a triple crown race.

Ruffian won ten consecutive races with Rachel like ease. She dominated her division so thoroughly that it was hard to know just how good the other fillies that were left in her wake were. Much like Rachel Alexandra, it was clear that Ruffian had proven everything against her own age and gender. Unfortunately her eleventh and final race, her first attempt against worthy competition, ended in tragedy. Despite her relatively short career and the lack of quality horses that she beat, Ruffian’s greatness and brilliance are undeniable. Just as we are seeing this year with Rachel Alexandra, Ruffian proved her greatness through her jaw-dropping dominance.

Often it takes years before full appreciation for what we have sets in. Love them both, pick a side, consider where you might rate them in historical context, but no matter what you do, enjoy every day that these two wonderful race horses grace us with their presence. Mr. Jackson, Mr. Moss, how about a race?

6 comments:

LDP said...

I remember this blog, it was a great one, and i've just finished reading all your other ones, and they are great. I hope you have a lot of success with your blog, your writing deserves to be read.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks so much for the kind words LDP!

LDP said...

No problem, i try to be as honest as possible and boy do you have a talent for writing. You know me well enough from other blogs, if i have a problem with something i have no hesitation at all to tell you, but i also try to give credit where it's due, and your writing, deserves every bit of the accolades it has received. Nice job.

john said...

29 wins!!!!
Were on earth is BAYAKOA???

Brian Zipse said...

By my count, Bayakoa won 21 out of 39 John. However, you are right she was a monster mare and should have been on my list. I am one of those people though that think Go For Wand was going to get the best of her on that fateful day at Belmont.

john said...

Wikipedia has her 29 for 39 but that info may not be correct.
I love Go For Wand, BUT, in 39 tries Bayakoa only finished 2nd once. She wasn't much for coming up short at gut check time. Besides that she's my favorite and the who was better arguements are nothing but fun any way.

Ooops! Almost forgot to remind you, Miesque did beat the boys twice and both were in the breeders cup. Although I'm not nearly as big of a fan of grass.