Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rachel is back, or seems to be; bring on Zen

After two of the tougher "beats" you'll ever see in consecutive starts, Rachel Alexandra bounced back today with an easy win in the Fleur de Lis H.-G2 at Churchill Downs.

The 3-year-old champion filly and Horse of the Year won by a geared-down 10 1/2 lengths, covering the mile and an eight over the main track in a pretty stout 1:48.78, and largely looked like her old self.

But then again, why shouldn't she? The race was her third off a long layoff, often a top angle for handicappers. And whom, exactly, did she face, sent off at prohibitive 1/10 odds? Not enough speed to wear her out; not enough of a closer to catch her.

And certainly not Zardana, who beat her in a hard-fought New Orleans Ladies Stakes that was Rachel's first effort in 2010.

Nor Unrivaled Belle, who ran her down at the wire in the April 30 La Troienne S.-G2 over the same Churchill strip.

I'm sure everyone's just glad to see that the old Rachel is back. Or seems to be.

But let's face it, only four other horses lined up to try Rachel in today's Fleur de Lis. The "competition" -- and I do use that word loosely -- consisted of pace-contesters Distinctive Dixie (18.5/1) and Jessica is Back (5.9/1), who finished second and third, plus Multipass (33.6/1) and Made for Magic (13.6/1), neither of whom was ever a factor.

Made for Magic is a Grade 2 winner in 2010, but over synthetic at Hollywood Park, and bettors clearly didn't think she was the top threat to unseat Rachel Alexandra on conventional dirt today, sending her off as a distant third choice.

Second-favored Jessica is Back certainly is a rugged mare -- 11-for-42 going in with nearly $550,000 earned, two minor stakes wins, and a G3-placing at Hawthorne. But thinking she could beat Rachel Alexandra today (even the Rachel who showed up in New Orleans) would have been far-fetched. Her odds of roughly 6/1 were a pipe dream.

Distinctive Dixie was 4-for-15 lifetime and had placed twice in the listed Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn, but has never won a black type race. And Multipass has a single stakes-placing at Remington Park in Oklahoma.

So the race was really for second place and two cracks at G2 blacktype for a mare's catalog page. Not that there's anything wrong with trying.

This field, in fact, bore passing resemblance to the one I watched undefeated and twice-champion older mare Zenyatta crush in a hand-ride on April 9 at Oaklawn in the Apple Blossom H.-G1. Still, that group was markedly better. On that day, second place went to Taptam, who has three prior minor stakes wins but earned her first graded blacktype in the G1 affair. The other three runners were all prior Grade 3 winners: Third-place Be Fair; Just Jenda; and War Echo.

So what does today's win by Rachel really mean?

No more stalling on a showdown between Rachel and Zenyatta, that's what.

Zen goes for her 17th straight lifetime win on Sunday in the Vanity H.-G1 at Hollywood Park. And it will be a test. She'll face Rachel-beater Zardana -- a fellow 6-year-old trained by her own conditioner, John Shirreffs -- and 7-for-12 lifetime St. Trinians, among the seven total entries in the 9-furlong event.

Regardless whether Zen wins on Sunday (I suspect she will, but anything can happen) the next time she runs (barring injuries to either female) should be in a race -- somewhere, darned-near anywhere -- against Rachel Alexandra.

It would appear the Horse of the Year is back near her form from last year. And Zenyatta's never been out of form in her life, unless she proves so on Sunday.

Find 'em a mutual spot, and run 'em.


  1. Since Zenyatta just won a squeaker, I'm not at all sure that the match up will take place before the Breeders Cup.

    It is up to the Zenyatta camp to come east and prove that they can beat Rachel head to head on a dirt track. Should Rachel continue to ascend in her form cycle, the Zenyatta camp could conceivably be denied Filly/Mare Eclipse or HOY again.

    I'd like to daydream a scenario where an Eastern racetrack like Monmouth Park can host a race perhaps around Labor Day to settle the score once and for all.

    Too much can go wrong by waiting all the way until November.

  2. Not going to happen.

    Rachel is headed to Saratoga for the summer to prep for the Breeders' Cup.

    Moss has said he was startled at how much of a toll shipping took on Zenyatta, something he figured out after the Apple Blossom. So she'll be staying in California, even if they skip Del Mar (which Big Z reportedly hates training on, but is willing to race on).

    This is shaping up to be the most amazing Breeders' Cup Classic that I can remember:

    Definite favorite Quality Road vs. Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta

    Can we say "biggest event in years" ?

    David H.

  3. I can't imagine Rachel Alexandra would go in the Classic against Quality Road, Zenyatta, a horse like Blame and several others potential contenders. ... Wouldn't she stick with 9 furlongs against girls in the Don't Call It The Distaff?

  4. Glenn is right, no way Rachel runs in the Classic against Zen and a field of top male competitors at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. She doesn't measure up to that level of competition and she has virtually no chance at that distance.

    On a side note, if the Rachel camp would like to race against Zen they are welcome to show up in the starting gate at Zen's next race. Zen is the defending BC Classic Champion and has won three G1 races in 2010. Rachel is one for three this year and hasn't faced any competition as stiff as Saint Trinians. This isn't 2009, Jess Jackson isn't calling the shots - Jerry Moss is.

  5. Glenn, if Rachel wins out the string and looks good doing it, how can they *not* put her in the Classic? Jess Jackson is nothing if not a true competitor. He wants to be the best -- he wants Rachel to be the best -- and there's no way I envision him ducking the Classic if Rachel wins out this summer.

    David H.


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