March 14, 2010

Reconstructing Rachel

They are only flesh and blood. As great as they are, they have similar imperfections as any of God’s creatures. “They” of course, are the greatest of Thoroughbred race horses, a phrase that certainly best describes Rachel Alexandra. Yesterday the world caught a glimpse of an imperfection, a vulnerability which proves that she is only a horse, not an infallible machine. For that matter, even machines are imperfect. This would be the point in today’s column where I would say the words, “they all lose.” But of course, I can not. Not with Zenyatta out there. The great mare, another of the greatest of Thoroughbred race horses, is the exception to the rule. I applaud her for perfection. Nothing more needs to be said…perfection.

This story is not about Zenyatta, though. It is about Rachel Alexandra. For without her there would not be these daily columns on Zipse at the Track. Without her, 2009 would not have been my favorite year of racing in a long, long time. Rachel has become a loved one, she has a special place in my heart. The stretch run of the New Orleans Ladies was painful to watch. Her defeat stings. It did not make me mad, it did not make me lose belief in her, it just hurt. I have been watching racing all of my life, and I know anything can happen on a given day, but you just never expect your heroes to be defeated. I am hoping the writing of this will be cathartic for me, and I realize her defeat raises many questions among her legions of fans.

Do I think Rachel will retire? No. I believe her connections know how good she still is. There is no reason to retire her now.

Does this loss mean the Horse of the Year voters got it wrong? No, yesterday’s loss takes absolutely nothing away from her championship season.

Do I think Rachel will be as good as last year? Yes, and that is saying a lot. I consider her 2009 to be the greatest season ever by a three-year old filly.

Do I think Rachel will run in the Apple Blossom? I am leaning to no. I believe her connections will decide that she has been rushed, and will decide to reconstruct her foundation to have her peaking for future races. The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic should be the ultimate goal.

As I alluded to in Friday’s column, her loss has been repeated over and over again throughout history. In my lifetime, I saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid defeated by inferior horses on multiple occasions. How can I hold this loss against Rachel, when all those legends went through the same thing.

Rachel Alexandra was defeated. It actually happened. Rachel lost yesterday for the first time in about a year and a half. There were reasons, but I offer no excuses. She was beaten fair and square by Zardana. As great as she is, Rachel Alexandra is only a horse. She is amazing, but fallible, she is beautiful, but vulnerable. I love Rachel today as much as I did 24 hours ago. She will be back. Look out world, Rachel will be back.


Ciarán said...

she'll be right as rain in her 3rd run! i think i like her more now. proper underdog v zenyatta now :)

Jennifer said...

Hi Brian. I was terribly sad to see Rachel lose yesterday. It brought tears to my eyes - There are few things worse than seeing a great horse get beat.

I think you are right - I don't see how Rachel can run in the Apple Blossom in roughly three weeks. She needs to get back up to speed, and it appears Zenyatta never slowed down.

I hope you are right - I would love to see Rachel comeback later in this year with the same talent she displayed in 2009.

Great article! :)

LDP said...

Even though I would love to see this match up more than anything, I will be just fine if her connections decide to wait. She was not at her peak and still she faught. She will be back, hopefully better than ever. Thank you Brian, you basiclly put my own feelings into words.

ja.raymond said...

I still dont believe she is as unfit or unready as her connections are having us think she is! As fit as she was at the end of '09, she kept galloping with the occasional work these last 4 months. So, I just dont see how she could have lost that race. The early fractions were clipping along well enuf but when she took the lead, she slowed the race down a bit..which is understandable. But I know Borel knew the others would have enuf in the end to make a sizable challange!
If she doesnt run in April, I dont think I'll be too surprised; disappointed and ticked off, but not surprised.

Jennifer Cook said...

Her race yesterday made me realize more fully just how amazing her record from last year really was. She made it look easy. But as it turns out, it's never easy. Even though I was looking forward to her racing in Arkansas again, all I want now is for her connections to do what's best for her. If that means not racing in the Appleblossom, that's A-OK.

"The Commish" Steve A said...

If Calvin was telling the truth, and I believe he is, then she lost beacuse they didn't want to push her to hard yesterday. Putting that aside, the trainer takes the hit yesterday for a poor job in getting her ready. They are in a tough spot now. They race in the AB and lose, they look bad. They don't race in the AB, they look bad. Would not want to be Mr. Jackson right now.

Sarah Grice said...

As excited as I was...and still am...for the Apple Blossom, I agree with the sentiment that JJ and SA need to do what's best for Rachel. I don't want to see her training rushed. I want to see a happy, healthy Rachel run for the entire season. If that means she skips the apple blossom and takes a few more weeks to train before her next race, I support that.

After sleeping on this, I have a different perspective on her loss than I did yesterday. I'm very glad that Zardana was in that race; Rachel's camp was able to experiment and see how soon she needs to turn on the speed in order to beat a strong closer. They learned a lesson there and you can bet they will not make that mistake again when they do face Zenyatta. They learned that if they wait TOO long to accelerate, it gives the Z's far too much opportunity to close on them. As a result, I am satisfied with yesterday's race and think Rachel and her camp will only benefit from this and can make better decisions with this information.

Thanks for such a great article. I had tears in my eyes reading it, as I share your sentiment about Rachel. I adore Rachel AND Zenyatta but there is something about that little filly that won my heart. I am not disappointed in her at all and cannot wait to see her once she is "back!"

Ian Lozada said...


Let me preface by saying I have never been a fan or Rachel. What you say about regular gallops is not accurate at all. Ask any athlete if light training is enough to get you in game shape and they will give you an unqualified NO. In fact, they will probably tell you that even hard practices are no substitute for actual games when it comes to preparing your body for the rigors of the highest level of competition.

Hell, the 1998 NY Yankees went a mediocre 15-12 in spring training, and started 0-3... then they won 114 more regular season games, swept the Rangers, beat the Tribe in 6, and swept the Padres in 4 in what's widely considered to be the best single season of any post WWII team. It's not how you start, it's how you finish the year.

Biasi and Asmussen tried to tell everyone all week that Rachel needed a race, that she wasn't tightened up yet. Everyone needs to relax, and let things play out.

SaratogaSpa said...

what is so bad with a 100 beyer? she is an athlete-let her run.

Amateurcapper said...


It's terrific to love on a horse like you seem to. Believe me, the SA faifthful which included me yesterday had our collective hearts in their stomachs when ZENYATTA got steadied down the lane when trying to find a path. One diminutive dude near me who couldn't see the finish thought Z had finished 4th considering the trouble.

To suggest RACHEL shouldn't run against ZENYATTA is over-the-top. She merely lost a prep race. It wasn't like she was beaten by open lengths. The saying goes that a race is worth five works. In my book, her loss compared to Z's win makes RACHEL the favorite in the Apple Blossom. Z's never had to run down the quality filly that RACHEL is. Asmussen and Blasi will have RACHEL dappled and primed for her best in four weeks. 1 1/8 miles is RACHEL's ideal distance. I agree, the undefeated RACHEL will show up repeatedly this year.

I'm not sure how you stood last year regarding Z's 2009 campaign with the BC Classic as a goal. Suggesting RACHEL shouldn't go after Z at OP is precisely what the Moss/Shirreffs camp was criticized for. It cost Z the HOY.

RACHEL is the reigning HOY...the best horse should race against the best horses contending for her crown. This thing's got to happen April 9, and two other times this year so there is no question remaining about who is best.

Decide this debate on the track.

Brian Zipse said...

First off, I want to thank everyone for their comments. I truly love Rachel and all your kind words were nice to see. To Saratoga Spa and Amateurcapper, I want to make it clear that I was only anticipating what would be decided by her connections regarding whether to run Rachel in the Apple Blossom. I certainly want to see Rachel and Zenyatta meet and I feel good about Rachel's chances on a traditional dirt course.

mvlach77 said...

The word is out now--no Apple Blossom for Rachel. I think it's a good decision. It's a long year and we'll see who is celebrating come November. My money's on Rachel, a healthy fit Rachel. The Zenyatta fans can crow for now. I'll take it without much response. But we'll see who's celebrating at the end of the year.

Celeste said...

Great article, Brian, your love shines through your words. At my house I was sad to see Rachel not win, but now I'm not surprised that she has been taken out of the Apple Blossom, and my biggest fear now is that they will decide to retire her. I've followed both these fillies and love them both, but I get so tired of all the bickering coming from both sides, which I just don't get. Do we have to belittle one horse to honor the other one?

mvlach77 said...

If we're looking for positives, how many horses run a 100 Beyer after a six-month layoff at 80 percent running wide on the first turn? Something tells me that Rachel will be throwing 110-120 Beyers when she is fit. And if you are doing that you are winning major Grade 1's. (by the way, Zen ran a 102 Beyer)

Jennifer Cook said...

mvlach77 reminds me that it's tough to get perspective on this. Had she held on and won by a nose? Then what? On to the Appleblossom in glory? I think Rachel will be fine, and the people in positions to know have made their decision. Cool with me! 100 Beyer nothing to cry about.

Karen2 said...

Brian.....I forgot to thank you for such a brilliant article. I absolutely LOVED it!!! I think the headline is spot on.... "reconstructing Rachel"...really..that is all that needs to be done. 6 works in 6 months.....that's not enough to keep my dog fit let alone a thoroughbred race horse.

mvlach77 said...

Jennifer, it is interesting to think that if Zardana does not come from California, Rachel wins by about 10 lengths and looks ready to go. Good point.

Anonymous said...

YES-YES-YES.... i believe the voters did get the HOTY wrong. rachel was great in 09 but Zenyatta was greater. HOTY is a very calculated, thought out vote and some calculated wrong. of the decade pehaps........ZENYATTA

Heather said...

Brian...this blog made me shed a few tears. Sorry I am so late getting around to reading, and commenting on it.

How beautifully written. When someone asked me if I was "ok" after the race, I said the same exact hurt, it really hurt. However, as you said, and as I have ALWAYS said, horses, no matter how great, are animals. Perfection (aka, Zenyatta) doesn't happen often and to me, it's kind of boring. While I take nothing away from Zenyatta and her amazing record, it's Rachel Alexandra and her minor flaws that I truly adore and respect. Rachel has absolutely NOTHING to prove to anyone, and anyone who has jumped off "Team Rachel," in my opinion are not true Rachel fans, nor true racing fans, for that matter.

I am a very firm believer in the saying "everything happens for a reason." Well, I believe the N.O. Ladies was definitely a sign showing everyone involved with Rachel and her fans that she is simply not ready to take on Zenyatta...just yet. While it broke my heart to see her struggling, and believe me, I was crying as she was coming down the stretch tired, I KNOW she will go back to training and her connections will regroup, and map out a new campaign that suits her best. I personally, don't see a meeting between the two greats happenng before the BC, and then, LOOK OUT Zenyatta...Rachel's gonna put it on ya!! ;)

On the other hand (and I'm not predicting this will happen) Rachel Alexandra could retire tomorrow, and I, for one will think nothing less of her and she would still remain my all time favorite. :)

GREAT JOB, Brian :)

Kimness said...

Great article Brian. I was sad, but not shocked that Rachel lost. I think she ran great for her first race after a six month layoff. I think her connections are doing what is right for her by not running in the Apple Blossom, she won't be ready & enough of the rushing her already. Like the said - they'll race her again when "she tells us she's ready".
I don't think they'll retire her.

Brigitte said...

Horses may not return to form after a layoff, hopefully Rachel just wasn't fit enough. Borel didn't push her very hard, he was looking at tomorrow. She kept competing because it's in her heart. But Borel said she didn't want to be kept off the lead (Asmussen had changed her equipment to give Borel more control). That could be a problem if it continues, because Rachel has to move up to 10f races and can't get pushed every step of the way as she was in the Woodward - especially if Zenyatta is coming. The fitness can be fixed, getting her to relax will be harder. I'm hoping for Team Rachel - let her come back!

Zenyatta's win was grand! We still don't know just how good she is! The closest to a real test was the Classic and she won much as usual, except for the 112 Beyer (thanks to a good pace). But Zenyatta only ran in the Classic because of Rachel and Jackson. The Mosses' conservative race strategy would have deprived all horse lovers of Zenyatta as we know her now. Competition in Sport is supposed to work like this, let's honor both teams.

Suzanne said...

Dear Brian:

What a lovely and comforting article. I watched the race on Saturday and was stunned when Zardana got past her, to the point of tears. I too love Rachel: she is a very special part of my life. I saw her at the Mother Goose and went crazy with the rest of the crowd at Saratoga when she won the Woodward. I believe she will come back better than ever and I pray that she will always run safe. Thank you for your gracious words and keep us up to date on her. GO RACHEL 2010!!!

mvlach77 said...

The discussion boards are lit up with hyper-negativity toward Rachel by many (not all) of the Zenyatta fans. I'm not buying the negativity or that she's no longer competitive or any of that stuff. She ran a 100 Beyer off of a huge layoff while not fit. She fought to the end. The critics can say what they want but come May, she will be back in top form and taking no prisoners. Don't bury (or retire) Rachel yet.

railrunner said...

Well said Brian, She'll be back!!
I think we were all shocked and dissapointed when she lost, but it was still a very good run. More than 11 lengths ahead of the 3rd place finisher...she is still Rachel obviously, just not 100% like Asmussen said.
Thank you for writing from your heart, it helped me "cope" with her loss a little better.

Anonymous said...


In spite of sharing my name with Rachel, I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Zenyatta. She, to me, is the most unusual, entrancing, powerful, and exciting racehorse I have ever had the privilege to see.

What's so great about her? She gives the fans, each and every time, an enormous thrill--"goosebumps"--as Trevor Denman said. She lets us think she is going to lose 'this time,' then pulls out a win at the last second. She can do anything! Mike Smith knows she'd run over the others to win if she had to, so on Saturday he very skillfully found a hole for her at the last moment so she wouldn't bully her way through.

Aside from her obvious racing skills--amazing for a mare of her size--she makes the crowd croon and swoon with her antics before the races. And her disposition is "sweet," according to Ann, her owner, as she lets her friends stretch out and lie down in her stall with her. She loves people, and they amuse her.

She is happiest when she is racing, "playing with them," again as Trevor said. I doubt that Sea the Stars could have beaten her.

She probably has weaknesses, somewhere, and her connections have been very careful with her, thank goodness! With her weight and size, she needs conservative handling to remain sound. All the folks connected with her adore her.

Yes, I love Rachel, too, and was sad to hear that she lost. How ironic that Zen's stablemate beat her. I hope to see Rachel race later this year, but I am one of the ones who suspect that she may be retired soon. It could be that she has had it with racing.

Rachel from Mariposa

Anonymous said...

Sorry pal, you're a fool!

There was exactly no justification for anyone to vote for Rachel Alexandra, who feasted only on weak and restricted company all year (save for a Woodward Stakes run six months ago comprised of a group that has netted a single allowance win since {1-to-2 shot, 5-horse field}).

The 3yo crop of 2009 was the weakest 3yo crop in many decades. Champion 3yo male, Summer Bird, topped 54 stakes foes in 2009, and those 54 runners combined to win exactly FOUR races the rest of the year!!!! That's 54 horses (supposedly 'stakes quality') winning the sum total of four times.

Rachel Alexandra has beaten only pigs and piglets, and has lost to even worse (now including a 3rd string waterboy from California).

Indeed the Eclipse Award Voters got it wrong (but only 130 of them, and not all of them).

Sarah Grice said...

Zenyatta herself only had ONE noteworthy race last year. In addition, all of her races were in Califormia and she raced fewer times than Rachel. I don't comprehend why people are still arguing that she should have won HOY. Just accept that she was the rightful runner-up and root for her to win it this year. I love Zenyatta as much as the next person, but sometimes you have to relax and accept that you cannot change the past.

Suzanne said...

As mentioned in my first comment, I am a Rachel fan, but also think Zenyatta is awesome.

But can we PLEASE all be civil and not call each other names or disparage either of those great animals????

mvlach77 said...

I knew it was only a matter of time until a foaming at the mouth Rachel-basher found his way to this board.

Jamie said...

Even great horses lose races sometimes -- bad luck, not feeling well or whatever. There's not much point in drawing conclusions from a single loss.

More noteworthy is that Zenyatta has so far not succumbed to racing luck. I think this is remarkable for a come from behind horse. You'd think that by now a horse would have fallen in front of her, swerved out and bumped her hard or done something to prevent a win.

Only one more win to tie Cigar's win streak. If she does it, it will be a testimony to her greatness, the good sense of her handlers and her luck.

Brigitte said...

A plug for Zardana: third string waterboy? She's a dirt horse who had the misfortune to be imported to California. According to her owner 1 1/16 is her best distance and "...she won her first starts of her career in Brazil (at Hipodromo da Gavea) over the dirt there,” Zetcher said, “and she won all three of those by 10 to 15 lengths apiece. (Hall of Fame trainer) Ron McAnally was the man who brought her here because of those races." Finally, Zardana got back on dirt and ran her race. She caught the reigning HOY short. But she was 10 lengths ahead of the rest. I hope her owner keeps her on dirt.

Shireffs may be sorry he sent Zardana to the NOL because Rachel won't run in the Apple Blossom, but Rachel didn't lose to a nobody. Zardana is one of the Saddlers Wells descendants who is a dirt horse, now she's 4 for 4 on dirt.

Anonymous said...

I thought Steve A did a great job getting Rachel ready 1:43.5, 100 BSF in a prep race? Perfect! I don't know what all the crying is about and I don't know why Rachel is not going to the Apple Blossom, oh wait, I do know why Rachel will be a no show, Zenyatta and Bambera.

Folks all that happen in the N.O.Ladies is that Rachel FINALLY faced a quality older horse without a break in weights. Get used to it, JJ Rachel can't hide Rachel in 3yo restricted any longer. And the HOTY should give weight not get a weight break.

And why is it that the Horse of the Year only gives 2 lbs to a one time G2 winner but Zenyatta has to give 15 lbs to a better field? Could it be that the Santa Anita handicapper knows more about race horse then the east coast eclipse voters?

Sarah Grice said...

It seems that there are still quite a few sore losers about Rachel rightfully earning HOY in 2009! I can't wait until she is back to her old self.

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