06/15/2010 1:16PM

108 Apples and 11.60 Oranges


Last weekend's four big nine-furlong stakes races were won by four of the five very early favorites for the Breeders' Cup Classic a mere 4 1/2 months away. While Rachel Alexandra's Fleur de Lis and Rail Trip's Californian received better final-time Beyer Speed Figures (both got 108's) than Zenyatta's Vanity (103) and Blame's Stephen Foster (102), the latter two finished significantly faster and into softer paces.

The track surfaces at Hollywood last Saturday (Californian) and Sunday (Vanity) and last Saturday at Churchill (Fleur de Lis and Foster) were similarly quick -- Hollywood was playing no more than three-tenths of a second quicker at 9f -- so it's possible to compare raw sectional and final times without much adjustment. (A difference of 0.30 seconds over nine furlongs means there's a difference of just over three-hundredths of a second per furlong.) So while we already all knew that Rachel Alexandra has superior early speed and that Zenyatta is one of the greatest finishers in racing history, their respective final furlongs were dramatically different: Rachel was extending her lead from 5 to 10 1/2 lengths while tiring with a final furlong in 12.88, whereas Zenyatta was relatively rocketing home in 11.60 seconds:

(Note: "LB" means lengths behind at each call. In the upper-left box, Rachel Alexandra was 0.5 lengths off the leader's half-mile in 47.25 seconds, so she ran her opening half in 47.34, using the calculation that a length=0.17 seconds.)

(Update: Chart above corrected to reflect correct Fleur de Lis mile time of 1:35.90 rather than 1:35.40 and final furlong in 12.88.)

Zenyatta's victory was perhaps the most dramatic in her incomparable career, and no mathematical analysis can fully reflect her accomplishments. Nor do final-time speed figures account for her doing whatever she must to win, even when losing ground and conceding weight to her opponents. Only the most literal-minded blockhead would say that Saturday's races show that if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta squared off at nine furlongs, Zenyatta would come up two lengths short.

Blame's finish was an impressive one as well. He ran down a good horse in Battle Plan, overcoming a four-length deficit through a final furlong in 12.02. He was making only his second start of the season and had plenty of upside. While his final time was 0.59 slower than Rachel's, it's hard not to think he could have made that up if each had needed to travel a 10th furlong, as they will in the Classic.

If all four of the weekend's winners make it to the Classic, they'll also have to deal with whatever 3-year-olds improve between now and then, as well as with Quality Road, whose victory in the Donn back on Feb. 6 remains a towering effort. Here's the above chart with the Donn added to the mix:

Rachel Alexandra and Rail Trip beat weaker fields than Blame and Zenyatta did, and were running freely by themselves in victory; things could be different if they have to tussle between themselves, put away Quality Road, and still hold off the cavalry. If everyone keeps thriving until the Breeders' Cup, that could be one spectacular final furlong at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in November.

Jim C. More than 1 year ago
To frank leverone: I had been thinking the same thing about Zenyatta being pointed toward the BC Ladies Classic. That would be a heck of a race, if she were to hook up with Rachel Alexandra, St Trinians, Blind Luck, and Devil May Care. But I think Zenyatta would have more of an edge at 10 furlongs and a perhaps a faster pace in the BC Classic, not to mention a slight weight concession from the boys. (I think she'll like the dirt at CD, as well as the long stretch run).
walter More than 1 year ago
It's amazing how plenty of newbies can all of a sudden be experts. Rachel was geared down and was eased? WHAT ARE PEOPLE WATCHING? Rachel has never been geared down or eased EVER. She has only 2 gears, go and stop! Why do you think Steve A. threw everything at her this year to make her rate?
ht More than 1 year ago
Weights,Weights Weights, Weights-can RA handle too much weight? can she last 1 1/8 or 1 1/4 w/ hi weight? Zen already did.
Frank Leverone More than 1 year ago
I doubt very much if Zenyatta will run in the Breeders Cup Classic this year. If you have missed the hints being dropped by John Sherriffs, four of which I will parphrase here: 1. We are not chasing Horse of the Year. 2. This is about letting Zenyatta do what she wants to do. 3. We want to enjoy Zenyatta being Zenyatta and share her with the public. 4. Our goal is the Breeders Cup in November. Last year they accepted the tough challenges for Zenyatta and she met every one. I believe that you will see Zenyatta return to the Breeders Cup Lady's Classic this year and she will beat any that dare to challenge her.
Horse Fly More than 1 year ago
Look at Kick Up Your Heels today(19 Jun) in the 7th at Belmont. On 19 Sep 09 in the 7th at Belmont in a CLM25000n2L he ran a final split of 11 and 2/5 ths. The next Secretariat? Look at the Beyer!
Mary in VT More than 1 year ago
Have watched and re-watched the Fleur de Lis and Rachel was eased the last bit. The time of her last eighth is irrelevant because she was no longer being asked while Zenyatta had 9 or 10 good hard reminders on that big fanny of hers... And nobody thinks Rachel is all the way back up to speed yet. If she returns to her Haskell form LOOK OUT. Agree with Paul that Zen should travel somewhere .. I understand she has a 'perfect record' but she has left CA what ... twice? I would like to see her go and conquer the world, and I think she could do it, too. If not overseas, at least come east once. While I am glad Zen won her race, and remains undefeated, it kinda made me sick when they went on and on about how she has done what the great Cigar and Citation could not do. Cigar and Citation were tested every step of the way .. thrown in the deep end of the pool every time. Six year old Zenyatta has had maybe three hard races and remains very lightly used. Good enough article though. Thought provoking.
Bryan More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta had a faster final furlong as she should have. She's a closer and she was fully extended coming down the stretch. Rachel had it wrapped up just past the turn, taking 2 hits to stay focused. She was ridden out and not asked for anything. Not only that, but she had to alter her course early in the race, which may have slowed her final time. Zenyatta had a good, dramatic race. Rachel had a great race.
Seeking the Gold More than 1 year ago
Interesting payouts at Belmont. 2nd race quinella paid more than exacta. Not a big Mike Smith fan, but I think he goes wide with zenyatta because she is a giant of a horse. Needs room to roll.
Kenny Mac More than 1 year ago
I agree with the running of Zen in the Arc comment. I believe Zen would make an awesome mile and a half turf horse. The fantasy BC matchup with the big five would be a dream. I want to add to that possibly Battle Plan on the lead, Looking at Lucky and Musket Man making big moves on the turn and in addition to Zen and Blame we have possibly Mine that Bird, Ice Box and Fly Down closing into the fast pace. That would be one heckuva horserace. [Unfortunately, Battle Plan has been retired.]
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
JVR: I understand where you're coming from, but I have believed for a long time one reason horses have broken down like they do today is because they don't race enough. To me, it's very similar to why we have seen a rash of pitching injuries in the last 10-15 years in baseball, and that is because managers are so worried about pitch counts and taking pitchers out too soon, often "babying" them in a way you didn't see 25-30 years ago. This is what I think is wrong with the sport now. The kind of campaign I have in mind is definitely an "old school" campaign, but even with four starts before the Breeders' Cup (as I would do it), that would not be enough in the eyes of a lot of real "old school" types, many of whom are probably spinning in their graves if they know how horses race now as opposed to years ago. And yes, I do believe you have to sometimes run a horses where you may not want to, but do anyway because it's in the best interests of the sport from a national perspective by doing so...