March 12, 2010

Rachel will Rock and Zenyatta will Roll

The days are being crossed off the calendar with careful precision. Hopeful fingers turn the page to peek at the month of April and more specifically at the circled date. Circled many times as to highlight the magnitude of what will happen on April 9, 2010. We are only four weeks away from an affair that can reasonably be called the most anticipated race in nearly four score. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have transcended their contemporaries on the track both male and female, and even more telling, they each compare favorably to any female horse to ever set foot on an American racetrack. They are racehorses who have each captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide and are so popular they are attracting new fans to the game on a daily basis. In four weeks, these titans of the track, these goddesses of great racing, will collide in an epic battle that will forever be remembered by millions. Judgement Day. We are close…but not quite there yet. The main hurdle to the magnificent meeting happens tomorrow. What do you call the day before judgement day? Perhaps March 13 will suffice for now.


Tomorrow sees Rachel Alexandra make her first start in more than six months in the newly created New Orleans Ladies while thousands of miles away, Zenyatta returns after more than four months in the Santa Margarita Handicap. We all expect Rachel to rock and Zenyatta to roll, but what if they don’t? What if the unspeakable happens? What if some how, some way, one of them is beaten? I know…blasphemy, but after all these years of following the sport, you come to realize that there are no sure things. There is a precedent for this sort of thing to happen. In 1973, a new race was created to bring together Lucien Laurin’s two great stars. The race, called the Marlboro Cup, would pit the all-time great sophomore Secretariat, and the top older horse in the nation and his stablemate, Riva Ridge. A funny thing happened on the way to the super race though. Secretariat was shocked by Onion and Riva Ridge was surprised by Wichita Oil in their last race before the big one. It did take a little luster off the match-up, but nonetheless a great field was assembled and The Marlboro Cup of 1973 was run, and Secretariat proceeded to run a great race to beat Riva Ridge by 3 ½ lengths, crushing the previous world record for 1 1/8 in the process. Are there any Onions or Wichita Oils in tomorrow’s races?

In the New Orleans Ladies, Rachel faces a small field of four. There are two fillies in the supporting cast that interest me. Clear Sailing is an impeccably bred and lightly raced four-year-old who has gotten better in each of her four starts. She is coming off an impressive late running win in the Pelleteri Stakes and continued improvement could see her become a major player in the older female division this year. The other contender of interest is none other than a John Shirreff’s trained six-year-old mare named Zardana. Zardana has shown marked improvement since a switch off the grass, including an easy win in the Grade 2 Bayakoa at Hollywood Park. Her connections must have high hopes for her on the dirt, to ship her cross country for this one and then probably the Apple Blossom. Real threats to Rachel? Only if the great one is not near her best.

In the Santa Margarita, Zenyatta faces a bigger field than Rachel and will also have to spot her rivals 12 pounds or more. Much as in the New Orleans Ladies, her competition appears up to be up against things, but there are a few fillies with some merit. The first three finishers in the recent Grade 2 La Canada are back to see if they can build on their recent success. Striking Dancer ran her best race to date in taking home the win in the La Canada, but it is the fillies who ran 2nd and 3rd that day, that may offer the big Z the most resistance. Second place finisher Gripsholm Castle made her first appearance stateside in the La Canada. Any improvement at all for the English import could make her the horse for Zenyatta to beat. The filly who finished third that day, Floating Heart, has yet to win a stakes race, but is still relatively lightly raced and had some traffic to deal with last time. She may be ready to run her best race yet, and against Zenyatta, they will all clearly need to their career best to have a chance at upset.

Will either of the stars lose? Highly unlikely in my experienced eyes. I expect them each to show us why we all hold them in such very high regard. Wins by both Rachel and Zenyatta would make the Happening at Hot Springs that much closer to reality. Let’s sit back and watch greatness tomorrow. My prediction: Rachel will rock and Zenyatta will roll.

18 comments:

Sarah Grice said...

Great article! I will be eagerly checking for the results tomorrow evening.

LDP said...

I hope they don't, and I hope for once my dream does not come true. Great post, fantastic lead up.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Sarah and LDP! I have to ask, LDP, what was your dream???

LDP said...

Oh lord Brian, throw me to the lions why don't you. I had a dream that Zenyatta was beaten. I don't know by who or what the race was, but I remember she had a horrible trip. The field was about the size of this one, with only seven or eight others in it. Smith took her up the inside, but the hole he wen for closed, boxing them in. He tried to go to his outside, but another horse had already gone past them just enough to block them in. Smith had to resort to slowing Zenyatta down, before he could swing wide. When she finally got into the clear she began to come on, but she didn't have enough time and fell short by about a length.

Brian Zipse said...

Interesting dream...you know of course that Zenyatta Nation will not be happy to hear of your nocturnal thoughts!

LDP said...

The Zenyatta Nation hates me anyhow. Now I await for the farmers to line up with their torches and pitch forks.

Brian Zipse said...

LOL...Luckily the Zenyatta Nation does not farm, nor do they carry torches and pitch forks!

william said...

brian...wonderful article....and even a mention of my favorite too!..could feel your passion for this race in your words

Brian Zipse said...

Thank you William. I love about which I write!

LDP said...

Brian,
I have a feeling that for me they would go out of their way to find some, lol.

Celeste said...

Great article, Brian! The races are going to be so exciting tomorrow and I'm counting on our girls to be the winners of both.

mvlach77 said...

Brian, I heard Derek Simon go at you pretty hard (in a joking way of course)about saying that Rachel is facing a tougher field than Zenyatta (on his podcast show). I thought his appealing to the history of the Santa Margarita was not very convincing. A race having a storied history and being a Grade 1 does not automatically make a field better than another--it's the quality of the horses in the field on that day. --Mike

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Celeste!

Mike, I took Derek to task for saying that the Santa Margarita field was certainly tougher than the New Orleans Ladies...which I think the facts clearly point out that it is not. I actually think the respective fields are pretty close with the Ladies having a little more talent, while the Margarita has more depth. You are right in what you say, It only matters who is actually in the race, not which race has more history. The 1973 Marlboro Cup (one of the most loaded fields ever) was not graded either...Derek is a pretty funny guy though. I will give him that.

ja.raymond said...

First of all, let me say: No Onions and no Oils!!!!
Practically speaking, they will both win, unless another rider has the gumption to blatantly cause problems (LDP's dream - Bbrr, shivers); which I believe none of them are that stupid.
Borel & Smith will ride the girls just like they always do. There shouldnt be any changes in strategy for Sat. The 9th might be another matter...

Great write, Brian! Your anticipation and excitement for these events are infectious!!! :)

mvlach77 said...

I'm surprised that 8 horses are challenging Zenyatta. I thought there would be about 4 challengers, like Rachel's race.

Anonymous said...

NY Times..."Rachel Alexandra's Security Guard Is Also Pursuing Ph.D." What some people will do to earn a living.
RG

mvlach77 said...

Brian,
I am looking forward to your analysis about Rachel's race. I think two thing are in play here: One, the fitness level. Two, I found it interesting that Calvin Borel was frustrated with the strategy given to him about rating her behind the speed horse. It sounds like he wanted to go by the speed horse much earlier. He also seemed frustrated that he had to wait until the 16th pole to ask her to run. I wonder if there is a difference of opinion b/t Calvin and Steve Asmussen/Jess Jackson.

Karen2 said...

Watch the race again. Rachel isn't getting the credit she deserves because she lost. This is a filly with the heart of a champion. Mark my words...if she stays in training...she will be back....maybe even stronger than ever. Keep your eyes on her.