January 17, 2010

Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra to Share the Spotlight

The racing world was bracing for the most important Horse of the Year announcement in more than 30 years. Would it be Rachel Alexandra the Great or would it be Queen Zenyatta? Many advocated a shared award, so that both deserving horses could be honored. The split Horse of the Year Award was pooh-poohed by the powers that be and voters were left to make a choice. It seems that choice has been made, and the award, come Monday night, will go to the three-year-old filly champion. Rachel Alexandra is thus on the eve of being honored for her historic season, which has been judged to be even more spectacular than that of Zenyatta’s incredible year by a majority of experts. Rachel Alexandra would be alone in the limelight for the first time in four months, but alas standing alone for either one of these superstars is not meant to be. In an announcement heard throughout the world, owners Jerry and Ann Moss yesterday assured that Zenyatta would share Rachel’s spotlight with their timely announcement to eschew retirement and bring back the great mare for one more year of racing. The announcement was not a surprise to many, but nonetheless, the return of Zenyatta gives racing two enormous stories over the long weekend.

Why is Zenyatta coming back after her supposed retirement, and two separate farewell ceremonies? Several reasons, first and foremost is that Zenyatta is in her prime. At six-years-old, she has clearly never been better and is still rather lightly raced. She did not race at two, and did not make her first appearance until near the end of her three-year-old year. She has been well managed since her debut, and it is no real surprise that she is better than ever at her slightly advanced age. Secondly, despite her unblemished career and two Breeders’ Cup victories, there is the specter of unfinished business. Had their not been as great competition as Rachel Alexandra provides, it would have been easier to let Zenyatta rest on her laurels. Without a Horse of the Year award, Zenyatta still has one last mountain to climb and it is not hard to see why her connections believe that she can do just that. Finally, 2010 provides the challenge of a Breeders’ Cup run on a traditional dirt track at Churchill Downs this year. A win in a third consecutive Breeders’ Cup and on a different surface would cement her place atop the history of the sport.

Those reasons aside, I unequivocally praise the decision to return Zenyatta to the races in 2010. The decision is a sporting one, as Zenyatta has much more to lose than she does to win by returning for her six-year-old season. She could blemish her undefeated record and she could lose her reputation that many hold for her as the greatest horse in America. She will have to leave the friendly confines of Southern California and their synthetic surfaces, if in 2010 she wants to win the kind of races that they no doubt have brought her back for. These new challenges are significant and for the Mosses to be willing to do so shows great courage and the kind of sportsmanship that has been somewhat lost in modern racing. For that, I commend yesterday’s announcement whether it was made on the eve of the Eclipse Awards or not. I also challenge future horse owners to take this lead and give all racing fans a chance to see the best doing what they do best, racing on the track.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Their names and their legends will forever be entwined together in the annals of the sport. For those of us lucky enough to be witnessing these stars on the track, we will never be able to think of one without recalling the other. There was just one drawback in their connection of greatness. . . they never faced each other on the racetrack. With yesterday’s announcement, Pandora’s Box has been opened. In this version, Pandora’s Box offers no terrible things, but rather the opportunity for a match up for the ages. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta facing off to see who is the best. The meeting will forever change their ultimate destinies, but in the end it is what we all want to see. After yesterday’s announcement, I fully expect them to race, perhaps as soon as April 3, at Oaklawn Park.

All fans of Thoroughbred horse racing long for the day when another horse finally completes the Holy Grail of racing’s Triple Crown. A Triple Crown winner would capture the attention of even the non-sporting audience, but until that horse crosses the finish line at Belmont Park, nothing could compare to a potential match-up of these equine heroines. It would be the greatest encounter of racing greats since the late ‘70s. Affirmed vs. Alydar, Affirmed vs. Seattle Slew and Affirmed vs. Spectacular Bid were monumental clashes of the sport, however, in those days they were somewhat commonplace. Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta would be like no other race since then, and it would be all the more special because of the rarity. That the two most popular horses so far this century are racing at the same time and are both females is amazing. Think about the anticipation, think how interested you will be to see the outcome. Whether it is once or more than once, we will all remember when they meet for as long as we watch the races.


LDP said...

It was w/o a doubt a wonderous day for racing. I read an artical on The Paulick Report that the DWC is out but the SA Handicap and Apple Blossom are still in. This will no doubt be a year that racing will never forget, it will live on through the ages, and I for one am glad to be a part of it.

Anonymous said...

Why are you so sure Rachel's winning HOTY?

Brian Zipse said...

I will not be 100% sure until the announcement tomorrow night, but all the information I have obtained to this point, makes me confident enough to include it in today's column.

ja.raymond said...

From the beginning, I couldnt understand why they were retiring Zen, being as lightly raced as she is...she's got SO much talent left!
I'm looking forward to this yr's racing so much I cant stand it!! So many good horses to watch!!
Thanx for another great write, Brian! :)

Jasmine said...

Yeah, Rachel will probably get HOTY. And she deserves it.
I just can't wait to see Zenyatta this year!

Anonymous said...

I, for one, hope that Z and RA go at it more than once this year. That way Zen can prove that she is the greatest horse in the U.S., maybe even the world if she goes to the Dubai World Cup, which may be unlikely but still a possibility. Go Zenyatta!


Anonymous said...

Can you elaborate on what other information? I'm not disputing at all (I've always thought Rachel deserves the honor, despite the fact I think Zenyatta probably would have won in a head to head match-up, if only because she's a 5yo facing a 3yo), just wondering how you determined this.

Brian Zipse said...

Sorry, I do not want to say anything more other than I believe my information to be quite reliable.

Anonymous said...

Incredible news, and it promising great things for this year of racing. If and when they do meet up it will be one of the most anticipated races in history.
I agree that Rachel is frontrunner for Horse of the Year. I wonder what the big picture will look like come Breeders' Cup time this year. I can only imagine the line-up if Rachel and Zenyatta go in the Classic.
I'm betting that they will meet at Oaklawn Park in the Apple Blossom first.

Sarah Grice said...

"I'm betting that they will meet at Oaklawn Park in the Apple Blossom first."

This is what I am hoping for! Forget The Donn, I think I'm going to hold out on the chance that my first visit to a race track will be to see teh RA-Z showdown!

There is a part of me that is annoyed that the Mosses chose this weekend to make this announcement. I'm sure they have also heard rumors that RA won and it seems like a cheap attempt to overshadow her HOTY victory.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Zenyatta for racing 5 times this year, not beating one good filly or mare, never leaving the state and beating the worst field ever assembled for the BC CLASSIC. I can not believe one vote went to Zenyatta for HOY. She's not even the best mare Mike Smith has ever ridden. That goes to Azeri. I am by no means a Zenyatta hater, she is great but she has to leave California and get some wins on dirt in 2010. She doesn't have to beat Rachel or even face her. Her trainer needs to take the safety blanket off.