Saturday, May 23, 2009

Target: Zenyatta

I could be wrong, but the longer the world waits to hear from the Rachel Alexandra camp about whether she's running in the June 6 Belmont Stakes, the less likely it is that she's running. And to me that decision makes perfect sense.
Rachel, purchased by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick after a smashing Kentucky Oaks win, was entered against boys for the Preakness and pulled off the victory despite doing virtually all the work on the front end for 9 1/2 furlongs and having to withstand another big swoop from the back of the pack by a little 'Bird.
I keep reading and hearing that she's "bred to get the mile and a half of the Belmont," but I'm not 100 percent convinced she has it in her after seeing the Preakness. I've read all the explanations for why it seemed she was starting to wear down in the waning stages of that race. I noticed one of them myself, telling a (non-race-fan) co-worker that I didn't really like how she was traveling during the Preakness; it looked like she was uncomfortable, or (and rider Calvin Borel later stated so) not fully handling the track.
In the Belmont, even if she handles the track better, the target drawn on Rachel's back will be bigger than ever. Fast horses will be thrown at her like darts in an English pub from the time the gates open, with the stalkers and closers held in reserve to rush her at the end. If you thought beating a sprint record-holder (Big Drama) to the first turn in the Preakness and holding off the cavalry charge at the end of 9 1/2 panels was a task, imagine trying to stave off Mine That Bird at the end of 12.
There's still something to be gained by beating colts and geldings ... again. Much of nobody is suggesting her Preakness victory was a fluke, but if she hands the boys their heads (or something else) twice in a row, the crown princess of this 3-year-old crop would have no more to prove against her own age and would really stamp herself as an Eclipse Horse of the Year contender.
But I think the target now is Zenyatta.
Last year's champion mare is still a perfect 9-for-9 lifetime going into today's Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park. She'll have to get by stablemate Life Is Sweet (among others) to stay unbeaten. But provided she does, I believe race fans' desire for a showdown between Zenyatta and Rachel will be just as compelling as the clamor for a Rachel rematch vs. Mine That Bird (which I'd also like to see).
Whether or not Zenyatta is still perfect when the top females do meet -- and, barring injury or illness, they will -- defeating her will be nearly as important, if not equally so, should Rachel's connections want her to be Horse of the Year.
After all, she's beaten the boys. But Rachel can't be considered the best horse to set foot on an American track in 2009 if she isn't the best of the best among fillies and mares.


  1. I enjoyed this blog on R and Z. You have educated me on Rachel's Preakness win and what the experts are looking at in the Belmont. I cannot help but feel since she took the Crown from the Bird that she should run in the Belmont though.
    Keep it up, it is writing and insights like this one that make me love horse racing all the more.

  2. Thanks for reading! ... I agree that the ideal situation, since Rachel took the Preakness from Mine That Bird, would be to see a rematch in the Belmont. But if she isn't 100 percent, A-plus-perfect, it isn't going to happen.

    I think they'll meet somewhere else along the line, though. Maybe in the Travers.


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