November 13, 2009

10 Reasons Why Rachel Alexandra is Horse of the Year

Horse of the Year for 2009 will be decided in about two months. Passionate followers of both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are at the ready to proclaim why their candidate is the more worthy. This debate has already become heated and only will become more so as the weeks pass. I write today’s column not to throw more fuel on the fire, but rather to do my job; have an opinion on topics that matter in the world of horse racing. Ask yourself why this subjective vote is so contentious. The answer is this: Two sensational horses have completed truly remarkable seasons, in the process giving their fans as much joy and rooting interest as we have seen in this sport in many years. Adding to the excitement and emotion, both horses are female. 2009 will go down as one of the greatest ever because of them. Is it OK to love them both? Absolutely. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are good for our sport, as is this debate.

1) Geography - In many years, where a horse raced does not matter, but when there is such an interesting race as this, it needs to be taken into consideration. We are after all, looking for our National Champion. Zenyatta raced all of her races in the friendly confines of Southern California, meanwhile, Rachel Alexandra raced in six different states and at seven different tracks during 2009.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

2) Beyer Ratings - Like them or not, they are the best tool in American racing to place a quantitative standard as to how well a horse performed in a certain race. Zenyatta’s Beyers from this year are 103, 104, 99, 97, and 112. Rachel Alexandra’s Beyers are 100, 103, 101, 108, 108, 111, 116, and 109. Her average Beyer rating in the last five races (all Grade 1’s) is 110.4, which is higher than every Beyer rating than Zenyatta has ever run until her last race.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

3) Grade 1’s - A sheer numbers comparison: Zenyatta won four Grade 1 races in 2009, while Rachel Alexandra won five Grade 1 races this year.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

4) Overcoming Adversity - While many races tactically set up well for the two heroines, there were three races that notably did not. Rachel Alexandra overcame a 13 post and a speed dual (something never done in my lifetime) to win an American classic, the Preakness, by one length. She overcame a rabbit, and a fresh wave of challengers every step of the way to beat older males and win the Woodward by a head over Macho Again. In the Clement Hirsch Stakes, Zenyatta was too far behind a dawdling early pace and still managed to get up and win by a head. Her head victory was over a horse named Anabaa’s Creation.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

5) Total Races - Both horses were undefeated and raced exclusively in stakes races, so I will side with the horse that ran eight times compared to the horse who only ran five times.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

6) Versatility - Rachel Alexandra raced on seven different dirt surfaces (every track is a little different) and raced equally well on both dry and wet surfaces throughout the year. Zenyatta only raced on fast Pro-Ride surfaces and was scratched out of the Louisville Distaff due to an earlier rain. By race time the track was listed as good.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

7) Margins of Victory - Rachel Alexandra’s average margin of victory in her eight races this year, all stakes wins, was more than 8 lengths, including a 6 length win over our soon to be champion 3-year-old colt, Summer Bird. In many of these victories, she was being eased up before the wire. Zenyatta’s average margin of victory in her five races, all stakes wins, was just over 1 ¼ lengths.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

8) Horses Beaten - While it is true that both fantastic horses have beaten many top horses, especially in the BC Classic, Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward, one has beaten far more stakes winners, graded stakes winners and Grade 1 winners than the other one this year.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

9) Aggressiveness of Campaign - Zenyatta gained leaps and bounds when she became the first female ever to win the BC Classic in 26 runnings, but combined with her four relatively easy races prior, she falls short of the campaign waged by Rachel Alexandra, who ran against the boys on three different occasions. She became the first female ever to win the Woodward, the first female winner in 85 years of the Preakness, and only the second filly ever to win the Haskell.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

10) Quality Victories - Zenyatta has the biggest win of all, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but that one race does not trump all the prestigious victories that Rachel Alexandra racked up this year. The Kentucky Oaks, Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward are four of the most important races on the U.S. racing schedule. In elite races on the American landscape the score is 4-1.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

I welcome your responses and criticisms of this piece. I only ask that your comments remain civil and respectful of your fellow readers. Let the fun begin.


Patrick J Patten said...

attention please

Patrick J Patten said...

check one
check 2

Brian Zipse said...

The Comments are back up and running...have at it folks!

Unknown said...

Thank you for tackling this touchy question! I think both horses are magnificent, but I agree the overall season outweighs the one race. You have convinced me!

Barbara Smith said...

I agree, your reasons are well thought out and argued and I do think RA showed her superiority by racing over different tracks and having to travel.

Barbara Smith said...

I agree, your reasons are well thought out and argued and I do think RA showed her superiority by racing over different tracks and having to travel.

Barbara Smith said...

I agree, your reasons are well thought out and argued and I do think RA showed her superiority by racing over different tracks and having to travel.

Barbara Smith said...

I agree, your reasons are well thought out and argued and I do think RA showed her superiority by racing over different tracks and having to travel.

Jennifer Cook said...

Like I said, I think you are hitting your stride. Every column seems to be your best one yet!

I agree 100 percent about Rachel being HOY. I differ a little bit on the importance of the Beyer figures in evaluating the two. When my husband told me to ignore Beyer top figures on the elite races, voila, my handicapping got better. They're indispensable with races at lower levels, I think. Zenyatta didn't look like the best horse going into the Classic with her Beyers, for example. I ignored that and bet all my money on her. Am I wrong that she seems to run only as fast as she needs to? So if she's facing faster horses, her Beyer will soar. I had never really witnessed her acceleration quite like I did in the Classic. Maybe the camera angle or whatever. The jockey said she had another gear and I believe it. In a horse with a heart like she's got, Beyers can be a little misleading.

But all that said, my insignificant opinion is also that Rachel deserves the HOY honor. She was just a baby, barely over 2, when she was blowing away the fields. Who knows what she may have left to do!

Thanks Brian for bravely facing this topic.

Silent Sunday said...

Great minds think alike! lol. You pretty much summed up my thoughts on the matter spot on.

Unknown said...

this is so far, the BEST blog i've read of yours, Brian. While it is pretty awesome that we've had GREAT year of racing, thanks to these two horses, it is RACHEL who defined this entire YEAR of racing, not just ONE major moment in racing. you've got perfect facts, not just a biased opinion. I, for one, do not need convincing that RACHEL should get, and DESERVES HOTY, but maybe after reading this blog, others will see what we already know....and that is RACHEL ALEXANDRA, the goddess, the perfect speciman should without a doubt, hands down, be HOTY...ENOUGH SAID. i've said it once, i'll say it AGAIN...this is the year i will ALWAYS remember as the RACHEL ALEXANDRA year, and nothing else.

Luvbarbaro said...

Well, I agree with Zipse 101 %!! I posted yesterday on FB, Rachel is a filly in another echelon.

When she won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lenghts, I could not believe my eyes. When her owners entered her in the Preakness, there was a big fiasco attempting to not let her in the race. In the end, the men who were afraid to race her and attempted to block her from racing, had every right to be afraid of her.

In the Mother Goose, she broke Ruffian's track record winning it by 19 lenghts. As if this wasn't enough, Rachel went on to face the older boys in the Woodward and of course won. A female has never won that race until Rachel, once again, I felt there was nothing this filly couldn't accomplish and I still feel this way.

NetworkEmpowerment said...

You tell them Brian! RA has done so much more this year it would be a sin to NOT award her. Zenyatta was great in her one race, RA is now considered by some the new standards by fillies! RA HOTY!

Anonymous said...

Rachel is getting all the love here, but I am still undecided. Nice blog, enjoyed it.


joani said...

I sat back with coffee in hand to "let the fun begin". What a nice way to start an evening. I really expected many more voices of dissent, but you clearly stated a solid case. Objectively, Rachel Alexandra deserves the title. You never had to convince me. However, as you stated at the start, this is a subjective vote. Not only do I agree with that, but also am prepared for whatever the outcome is. As a non-voting spectator, I can only state with authority that we racetrackers have had an incredibly stimulating, no, THRILLING year that in a perfect world would see both getting their just reward. Another one for the records book!

Nice job, Brian. Well done.

Valerie Grash said...

Well said indeed, Brian! I too steeled myself to see all the "you hate synthetic/worship Zenyatta" comments, but you appear to attract readers of logic and distinction :)

In an ideal world, I would like to seriously see co-champions, but if push comes to shove, you're right, it really isn't a contest. Rachel ruled!

SaratogaSpa said...

as the emotion from last saturday settles down, it is clear that Rachel is the Horse of 2009

Sarah Grice said...

Great article. I agree. Keep them coming! And now I finally feel comfortable leaving comments.

Amateurcapper said...

Okay, I'm game, I'll be the voice of dissent in this space. I hope those of you RACHEL supporters who've already commented will check back...I love the banter!

Brian, no hard feelings with these comments. I'm playing the devil's advocate, easily I admit, because I believe HOY is ZENYATTA's.

Can you tell me what major sport crowns a champion for the best record in the regular season?

I'll conceded the regular season MVP to RACHEL for her body of work in the spring/summer this year.

However, ZENYATTA was prepared in 2009 to win a "championship" in a Breeders' Cup race. There was no reason to travel because the championships were on synthetics. The "off" track kept her out of the Louisville Distaff. Had she run in/won that race, there would have been plenty of time for the campaign she completed. Would that have swayed any of you?

Add in that she was the reigning Champion Older Female and, to make a boxing analogy, it's the contender to the throne that must make the concessions. Jackson and Asmussen wanted no part of 10f on synthetic against ZENYATTA. No show, no trophy. ZENYATTA WON THE CLASSIC, SHE IS HOY AND THE FINALS MVP!

To be continued...

Amateurcapper said...

Also, in what major sport is it possible to miss the championships and be considered a champion?

Would the Steelers, Lakers, or Yankees have been able to skip the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or World Series and still be considered champions?

If horse racing wants to leave the periphery and enter mainstream sports as a legitimate entity, there needs to be a way to get the best horses in training to the Breeders' Cup. ZENYATTA's connections recognize this distinction of settling HOY debates on the track!!!

If there are no changes next year or the year after, it'll be only us, horse racing fans who already buy into the product, that will recognize how uncommon it was to have two females the quality of RACHEL and ZENYATTA racing in the same year. What a travesty the sports world didn't get the chance to know them. What a shame that they never met.

Speaking to your quality argument and horses beaten many G.1 wins (in the raceday PP's) did RACHEL's competition in the Woodward have?

Answer: 3

Even if you add in the G.1 wins she faced in the Preakness, Haskell, Oaks, etc. it still won't add up to the number that ZENYATTA faced in the Classic alone.

How many G.1 wins did ZENYATTA's Classic competition have (also on raceday PP's)?

Answer: 16 (would have been 17 if Quality Road hadn't thrown a fit and that doesn't include the G.1's of LIFE IS SWEET and COCOA BEACH)

So you're talking about "historic" races, not "quality" races. Giving RACHEL the HOY because of the kind of horses who've won the Preakness, Haskell, and Oaks in the past is merely rationalizing your definition of "quality".

G.1 animals win G.1 races...RACHEL and ZENYATTA are bona fide G.1 females. There were more G.1 quality horses in the Classic, thus ZENYATTA defeated more quality opponents in one race than RACHEL did all year long. And, she creamed the Ladies Classic winner LIFE IS SWEET this year. Did RACHEL defeat any Breeders' Cup winners? NO.

More to come...

Amateurcapper said...

Geography: I'll concede that RACHEL traveled well and successfully, but she didn't make the most important trip. No extra credit for RACHEL because she skipped the championships.

Ratings? It's funny how racing fans kill Andy Beyer but when his figures fit into an argument, his numbers are the barometer that's used.

I'll counter with an e-mail I received about the world ratings regarding the top 10 of 2009. They see ZENYATTA ahead of RACHEL:

Top 10 Horses
9th May to 8th November 2009

Rank Horse Rating

Note also that ZENYATTA defeated two horses on the World Thoroughbred Rankings (RIP and GIO); RACHEL didn't defeat any of them, let alone race against them.

Overcoming adversity? How much adversity did she overcome in the Oaks? the Mother Goose? the Fantasy? In the Haskell she waited for sprinter MUNNINGS to tire and the pace and 9f caused SUMMER BIRD more adversity than RACHEL endured. The Preakness was the only race she overcame obstacles (post, 15 days b/t races).

ZENYATTA overcame more adversity in every race of her career, not just this year. Because of her loping stride, she faces negative race shapes (slow paces) at distances ill-suited for her size/style, loses ground routinely on the turn/into the lane, yet always made it to the wire first. The Classic found her running inside, behind horses, then swung wide to win with her ears pricked. Z is the one who truly overcame obstacles this year.

Aggressive campaign...I'll use a tennis analogy. Is it best to play as hard as you can in the opening rounds of the U.S. Open but be so tired to default in the finals? Again, the goal is to win a championship on the track on championship weekend...RACHEL was a no-show. That's not aggressive in my book.

One more set of comments...

Amateurcapper said...

Total races...the 3y.o. championship races are in the spring. Thus, 3y.o.'s will often run more races at peak level during early/middle parts of the year than their older counterparts.

The only thing for ZENYATTA to do after last year was remain undefeated to break PERSONAL ENSIGN's perfect career and defeat males in the Classic. She did both.

It was a perfect campaign culminating with a stirring win in the Classic, with impeccable horsemanship, featuring uncommon racing luck, including a G.1 with the biggest purse of any race in the U.S.

RACHEL won the filly division with her Oaks demolition. IMO, RACHEL won the 3y.o. title for both sexes, the males lose any right to the award to her this year.

SUMMER BIRD, the males' frontrunner, was no match for her in the Haskell plus RACHEL won the Preakness over Derby winner MINE THAT BIRD. In the Derby, MTB defeated SUMMER BIRD. Wanna do something historic for RACHEL: GIVE HER BOTH 3Y.O. AWARDS!

Margins of victory...really? That's reaching. After 3 games in the World Series, the Phillies had a 12-10 edge in runs scored yet trailed the series 2-1, had a 24-23 edge in runs scored after five games but trailed the series 3-2. Style points in wins don't always indicate a quality win. The Yanks won in six games.

Talk to any owner or trainer and ask them if they'd rather win by open lengths but save something to be in position to win the richest G.1 race of the year. They don't care about margin, but whether the nose hit the line first.

Here are my statistics:
ZENYATTA 5 wins, $666,000/start;
RACHEL 8 wins, $343,364.

Percentage of G.1 wins/starts:
ZENYATTA 80% (4-of-5)
RACHEL 62.5% (5-of-8)

Okay, I've given y'all a lot to chew on...lemme have it! I can take it!!!

JB said...

I'm afraid for all you Zenyatta fans in February Rachel goes home with the hardware. Zenyatta's races were not so Quality this year when you beat Life is sweet most of the year. So 17 is a not the number this year that is a overall career number. That overall number does not decide 2009 HOY.

Brian is right, And the reporters know Rachel will recive 2009 HOY!

And just for the record, The BC Classic does not decide HOY, Just ask in recent years Point Givin,Charismatic,Mind Shaft,Holy Bull,Spend A Buck. All never made the BC and were HOY.

Brian Zipse said...


I am pleased to have you as a reader and thanks for the fodder for debate. I think you are wrong, but thank you.

Racing is not a one-race, winner take all sport. It never has been and never will be. I do not feel Skywalker, Arcangues, Concern, Alphabet Soup, Cat Thief, Volponi, Raven's Pass, etc... should have been Horse of the Year. Do you? I gladly call Zenyatta, Breeders' Cup Champion, but as far as Horse of the Year (Year being the key word), I simply can not discard the rest of the season.

To use your tennis anology ... should we forget what happens at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, only to concentrate on what happens in a year-end tournament on a surface that is not as favorable to all players???

I find it curious that you would use a Euro-centric rating in your argument. They have no meaning in American racing. Well Armed was the highest rated U.S. runner for most of the year. Do you rate Fame and Glory (loser of three straight and off the board in his last two) and Rip Van Winkle, equal or superior to Zenyatta? They are on this list.

If I owned a champion...Yes I would prefer them to win by open lengths...that was an easy one.

Anonymous said...

That Euro-centric rating is in your arguement not mine since you used World ratings on a American Award. One race is still not gonna get the Award for Zenyatta. You may love her but Rachel will still take the award away!

Amateurcapper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amateurcapper said...

Thanks to all of you for seems that horse racing will only be ennjoyed by us true racing fans. I guess that'd be okay, then we can keep having these respectful disagreements.

BC Classic not deciding HOY: CURLIN 2007, INVASOR 2006, SAINT LIAM 2005...

I informed you of the international ratings just to have you think for a moment that there are racing opinions outside of the U.S. Noted handicapper James Quinn has said that Beyers aren't as important on turf as they are on dirt. Comparing his synthetic numbers to traditional dirt is the same deal.


Are you saying that upset winners in other sports aren't true champions? In the NCAA's and NFL there is one champion crowned on that day. They hand them the trophy, they are the champions.

The winners of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open all play in the year-end tournament...THEY ALL SHOW UP IF HEALTHY.

It's very disappointing that there is no agreeable "championship" to decide who's best, in a real race and not discussion about match racing. Because of that, horse racing will never make consistent headlines on Sports Center and similar internet news outlets.

I love this game, as much as you all do, and would love to share the glory of this game with the sporting masses. I guess I'm in the minority.

Brian Zipse said...

No, the upset (or the possibility of an upset)is one of the things that make any sport great. Would someone who won the year end ATP Tennis Championship get the title over another player who won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open? No, of course, they would not. Which is a perfect analogy for Breeders' Cup Champion vs. Horse of the Year...they are not synonymous. Some years they go to the same horse, but just as often they do not. If the BC Classic is the only race that matters, racing would lose a lot of fans the rest of the year.

Thanks Amateurcapper, for the debate, hope to see you at the races!

Valerie Grash said...

Amateurcapper: “Can you tell me what major sport crowns a champion for the best record in the regular season?”

With all due respect, you are comparing apples and oranges—team sports vs. an individual endeavor. Those major sports also have standings and points given when all of the teams play a set number of times per season, and you earn your right to be in the championship event on, ultimately, a neutral site by winning more games than your competition. Using your comparison, why should Zenyatta’s connections be rewarded for conservatively racing her all year, never outside of California THIS YEAR, or on a REAL DIRT surface THIS YEAR, and just aim her for ONE race? The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t get to take half the season off, saving their energy for one game at the end of the season that is played on THEIR HOME SURFACE.

I honestly don’t understand the mentality of buying into the Breeders’ Cup being a “championship” race. And, yes, in part it is because for two consecutive years the event has been held on a synthetic surface when American dirt racing is run on DIRT, not plastic. So, following your argument, recent claimer Furthest Land is the champion Dirt miler and DANCING IN SILKS who had never won a graded stakes race should win the Eclipse award for Champion Sprinter because he won the BC?

I have no problem with the BC turf winners as they raced on a fair turf course, but as much as anti-dirt people don’t want to admit, the past two BCs have been significantly marginalized by the number of truly good DIRT horses who don't run well (surprise, surprise!) or avoided running on it all together. What needs to happen is a recognition by the Breeders’ Cup that, if they want their races to be considered in anyway a true measure of greatness, there needs to be three categories: turf, dirt, and synthetic.

Also, the World Thoroughbred Rankings, as Steven Crist has so articulately noted, are complete garbage as they are, 1) bias for European turf horses, and 2) based on only ONE race, not the complete body of races that a horse raced in. You can read his argument here:

Anonymous said...

rachael had the more competitive year.if zenyatta had once this year come out to play that might have changed my mind but she didn't.i do not believe she would have ever run in the classic if not for rachael's record breaking year.rachael broke more than one boundary.she shook up the whole works up!i loved watching zenyatta's breeders cup win it was fantastic.i was thrilled by rachael every time she raced ! she broke ruffian's record while being eased.
this is some argument for us all to be having!i just hope that in this what have you done for me today world rachael alexandra the great doesn't get lost!
run like a girl!

Amateurcapper said...


In case you haven't been to the track on a regular weekend day (no big name horses, G.1 races), racing has already lost a lot of fans. We've got to find a way to recruit more racing fans.

I've reconsidered the number of races argument and will concede there is some about six races minimum per year with one of those six being a mandatory appearance at the Breeders' Cup? There should be at least four races in G.1 or G.2 company and at least two of those four in G.1 races (Breeders' Cup races designated G.1 included).

I will not concede that making the BC program should be the championship making event. It gives the casual fans an event to think about through the year and will compel them to tune in to the top races that will have an effect on the Breeders' Cup.

What causes casual fans to lose interest is not knowing which horses will be showing up when. Health is a variable that cannot be controlled, but getting all the horses to the Breeders' Cup should be doable.

As always, enjoyable discussion.

Amateurcapper said...


As I commented to Brian, I've reconsidered and offered a future solution to the short campaign with the only travel requirement being that any horses wanting to be considered for year end championships show up and win a Breeders' Cup race.

Even if you didn't read my last post (, you were correct in assuming that DANCING IN SILKS does get my insignificant vote for Champion Sprinter this year but would not qualify for the race according to my criteria for next year. I guess I've been consistent, albeit disagreeable with my comments. I didn't select the Dirt Mile division, didn't really care about it just like I didn't put on in for the Mile on turf. Those winners get lumped into Older Horse and Older Turf horse.

As for the World T-bred Rankings and Crist, I can see the one race argument and you are consistently against that. Do you also agree that SEA THE STARS is the equal of ZENYATTA and RACHEL?

I get your bias for the dirt...I'm not sold on the synthetics either but I am sold on seeing all the best horses competing on Breeders' Cup weekend. I truly hope that all Cali horses that are legitimate starters in the Breeders' Cup next year show up at Churchill Downs, even if it is a sloppy mess and the turf course is a bog. Outside sport, lets get 'em dirty!

Will you play a hypothetical with me?

What if LOOKIN AT LUCKY is fortunate enough to progress into a dominant 3y.o. champion after the Triple Crown series next year, but choses to stay in California t win a race like the Pacific Classic before shutting down for the year? At the same time, RACHEL returns a shell of herself a la CURLIN in '08 (not likely, but please play along) winning unimpressively against nondescript horses, without shipping to Cali.

Would you feel slighted if the HOY argument was pro-LOOKIN AT LUCKY and a foregone conclusion by September despite RACHEL affirming her greatness with a stirring Classic win like Z did this year?

You know it's a solid gold lock that RACHEL's not coming to Cali next year and will have a lighter campaign than she had in '09 while pointing to the Classic ON HER HOME SURFACE.

Will you reward J.J. and Asmussen for doing next year with RACHEL what the Moss' and Shirreffs did this year with ZENYATTA?

Valerie Grash said...

Amateurcapper: “any horses wanting to be considered for year end championships show up and win a Breeders' Cup race.”

So, hypothetically, a horse wins the Triple Crown—no, dominates the Triple Crown, setting records that best Secretariat—and then is injured and can’t run in the Breeders’ Cup. They shouldn’t be considered for a championship award? Come on, there are way too many factors that come into play to categorically say that horses must show up for one race to be considered a champion. One race takes all? Why bother running them during the year—just show up for one race, or better yet, only run against allowance horses until you get to the Breeders’ Cup? Come on! The idea of a championship race is really so ludicrous. Now, a SERIES of championship races—hey, that’s an actual campaign! What do you think we did BEFORE the Breeders’ Cup existed? Do you think championships were won on the track with horses running against one another on a regular basis? Honestly, I think one of WORST things to happen to racing over the past two decades is the Breeders’ Cup. It’s led to a decline in both the number of races an individual high-quality horse runs in during the course of a year, and the field size of major races.

Honestly, reward Dancing In Silks as champion sprinter?!? Come on, even you can’t swallow that Kool-aid. Have you looked at his record this year? After a fourth-place finish in the restricted Sunshine Millions Sprint in January, he came back in August with 3 wins—in an optional claiming race for non-winners of two, the restricted Pirates’ Bounty Stakes against five completely forgettable horses, and the state-bred restricted Cal Cup Sprint, again vs. a field of nobodies. So, because he scoped with mucus in his lungs and didn’t run in the BC, we ignore the campaign of Kodiak Kowboy who won the G1 Carter and Vosburgh, and finished second in the G1 Forego? Who knocked heads three times with G1 winner Fabulous Strike, and ran against the likes of Munnings, Pyro, Benny the Bull and Fatal Bullet?

I don’t believe Sea the Stars is the equal of Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra—they are both better than he.

I’m not biased for dirt—in fact, I love watching and playing Keeneland, Arlington, Woodbine and especially the Tapeta at Presque Isle. I do believe, however, that synthetic surfaces are very different from dirt, and if the Breeders’ Cup eliminates more than 50% of the horses racing in this country—including all the tracks in New York, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and major tracks like Churchill—by not recognizing that running “championship” races on a surface that is materially-biased against dirt horses, then the discord will continue. Next year, how about a two-day Breeders’ Cup not based on sex, but having synthetic races (and maybe some turf races) at Keeneland on Friday, and then the dirt races (and some turf races) at Churchill on Saturday?

Valerie Grash said...

(con’t, because the original comment was apparently too long)

I’ll play your hypothetical game (even though Lookin’ at Lucky is far more likely to go the way of Stardom Bound and so many other brilliant 2-year-olds as opposed to dominant Triple Crown victor), but you need to clarify “dominant.” Does he win the Triple Crown, or win one or two and place in the other? I’m assuming he’d run in a number of prep races in advance of the Kentucky Derby, against the best competition. But, would they go the way of so many other unsuccessful West Coast invaders and only prep on California synthetics, or would he race outside the state? He would certainly have to race in Kentucky, Maryland and New York, at least, before returning to the comfort of his California home.

In the same way I’m skeptical of Lookin’ at Lucky becoming a dominant 3-year-old in Triple Crown races, I totally disagree with your supposition that Rachel Alexandra’s connections will shape a conservative campaign for her or that she will run against nondescript horses such as Zenyatta did this year. But, for argument’s sake, if Rachel ran only 3 or 4 races, only against fillies and mares, at her preferred distance, on the “perfect” surfaces and then won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, would I reward her connections for playing it safe like Zenyatta’s did this year? Well, you apparently are willing to do so for Zenyatta (or did you forget that was your initial argument?) LOL!

Always fun to “agree” with you :)

(Thanks, Brian, for the forum to rant!)

Nancy said...

Interesting well thought out blog. I know this is only a top 10, but in my analysis I also looked at how fresh the horses were. Zenyatta started this year after resting 211 days, Rachel rested only 78 days. Then consider that roughly 170 days later, Rachel has raced and won 8 times and Zenyatta has raced and 5 times all on her home turf to boot. Hands down Rachel Alexandra is the more deserving of the two for HOY.

Racefan12 said...

Good post! The Breeders' Cup, despite its self-appointed "World Championship" moniker, is not a world championship--there is none in horseracing. It is simply one race in which good horses run. Zenyatta won it, beating the good colts; Rachel won THREE such races, beating the colts. The award is for Horse of the YEAR, not Horse of a Day. Rachel Alexandra is Horse of the Year by 21 lengths.

Anonymous said...

DITTO BRIAN. If facts prevail over emotion, Rachel Alexandra is the rightful winner.

Hugs to Zenyatta fans, she might be the better horse, but her campaign never let us see what she could really do. She might have been the female version of Man O'war- WE NEVER GOT TO SEE HER ALL OUT. Can you imagine how far she might have dusted them in the BC Marathon. WOW FACTOR.

ThePixiePoet said...

In this 2009 year alone, Rachel Alexandra:

1) has set TWO stakes records for time in: Martha Washington, Mother Goose
2) has set TWO more stakes records for largest winning margin in: Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose
3) was the ONLY horse (male or female) ever to win the Preakness from the far outside gate
4) was the ONLY female EVER to win the Woodward
5) TWICE, came within 1 second of breaking the TRACK RECORDS (at Belmont and Monmouth)
6) had the HIGHEST Beyer Speed rating this year of 116. (The Haskell)

ThePixiePoet said...

I like Zenyatta, she is impressive, but the Breeders Cup is the ONLY remarkable race Zenyatta has won all year, YET some of the best horses in the world did not race in the Breeders Cup this year: including Rachel Alexandra and Sea the Stars. Remember that this is where she beat competition that mostly was not used to the synthetic track. You cannot reliably compare true ability on track surfaces where one has raced all year (Zenyatta) and many others (like MTB, Summer Bird, etc) are not used to at all. IT IS NOT A FAIR COMPARISON. The 2nd and 3rd place winners were both TURF horses, not dirt horses. Dirt horses have a decidedly large disadvantage as clearly shown by all the "favored" dirt horses that LOST in other Breeders Cup races, both this year AND last year. Zenyatta won this year only because (except for 1 race on dirt) synthetics are mostly what she raced on in her entire career! Thus, ONE horse race (the Classic) where multiple HIGHER QUALITY horses (Two of the top race horses in the world: Sea the Stars and Rachel Alexandra) were not even entered really does not a world championship make.

Anonymous said...

That was an EXCELLENT, and well-put together piece. Marvellous! Bravo! I agree 100%.

As many have said before, If you're gonna give the HIGHEST AWARD in the land, give it to the horse who won MORE THAN ONE RACE-- RACHEL ALEXANDRA. She won almost TWICE the number of races Zen the "Undefeated" won in 2009, and she triumphed against male horses THRICE in the same year! And Rachel is only 3!! SPECTACULAR!!

Zenyatta the "undefeated" wouldn't even be in the HOY discussion, were it not for ONE RACE. Her entire claim to fame and HOY is ONE RACE -- the BC classic. ONE RACE saved her career from oblivion in 2009. ONE RACE made her a "champion" worthy of HOY??? Am I missing something here?

ONE RACE will not take a horse from Zero to Hero. NO. Why? because it doesn't prove anything. When Rachel won the Preakness, they said she's "got a lot to prove," coz she won just one race against males. Now, Rachel won THRICE against males, and all the horse players SALUTE her.. Zenyatta comes along with ONE WIN against males, and the fans say she should be HOY? I say, "well, she still has A LOT to prove." And that would be right. Zenyatta has to EARN her HOY award, just like Rachel did. Zen cannot demand "special treatment" just because she is the "Undefeated" one. She got to "scrub the floors" like everybody else if she wants her pay. That's how it is-- That is how HOY is earned.

Maybe in some other "weak" year when there is no RA to compete against, Zenyatta CAN be HOY. But not in 2009. Not this year. This year is RACHEL'S YEAR!! 2009 is the year of the SUPER FILLY!


Anonymous said...

Rachel has outworked Zenyatta hands down but imo Rachel was campaigned to avoid Zenyattaplas. No way Rachel could ever beat that mare on any track. So for you owners/trainers who has a good horse, campaign them like Rachel. Pick races you can win but avoid the one horse that can beat you and you could win HOTY!

Nancy said...


For point #8, you are talking about the sum of all three right? G1 wins + GSW + SW?

I agree with your reasons but in my mind one of the biggest ones was left off the list - she beat more males than she did females. I'd like to know when the last time this was done (beaten more males than females in a single racing year). That stat to me is astounding, especially for a 3-year old filly.

Brian Zipse said...


Yes it was a sum total. Your point is well taken, another amazing stat from Rachel's marvelous year.

Anonymous said...

True! Rachel's rigorous campaign deserves HOTY but she wasn't the strongest or best horse in 2009. Rachel couldn't beat Zenyatta last year, this year or ever. Of course, I am way ahead of myself, it would be when pigs fly when Rachel is put in the same starting gate as Zenyatta. Rachel's handlers knows she has no chance of beating Zenyatta.