01/16/2010 10:25PM

Better than HOTY


ARCADIA -- The wonderful news of Zenyatta's unretirement earlier today takes a lot of the steam out of Monday's looming Horse of the Year announcement, and that's only a good thing for racing. Instead of an apples-and-oranges popularity contest being the final word on Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, we can look forward to seeing them both on the racetrack again, and perhaps their paper rivalry can become a real one.


The way the news trickled out today was a publicist's nightmare -- no staged press conference, no gathered and breathless audience, no scripted announcement -- but it had its own charm and contributed to a palpable wave of giddiness you rarely see take hold of a racetrack.

I got to witness the scoop unfold. Just after the first race at Santa Anita, I was chatting with DRF's Brad Free near the paddock when trainer John Shirreffs caught his eye and summoned him over. As I cooled my heels, I saw Shireffs point Free over to Jerry and Ann Moss, who were standing nearby, and I watched them chat briefly before Brad took off for the press box. A few minutes later, the news flash was up on the drf.com website. A few minutes after that, Moss repeated the news in an interview on HRTV.

Only those patrons near television sets tuned to the station heard it, but over the next half hour you could almost see the buzz spreading throughout the track, and within an hour it had been announced over the public-address system and everyone knew. For the rest of the day, two months of interminable and polarizing bickering over which of these future Hall of Famers should be the 2009 Horse of the Year completely disappeared, and all that anyone wanted to talk about was where Zenyatta might make her season debut and when she and Rachel might finally lock horns.

Horses (even these two) being fragile, it still may not happen. While Zenyatta has been working half-miles and looking like she could race the day after tomorrow, Rachel has not resumed really serious training after a draining 2009 campaign. It's tempting to circle the first Saturday in April for the showdown of the new millenium in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn -- a race that Zenyatta won in 2008 in her only career dirt start, and at a track that's both relatively close to Rachel's winter quarters in New Orleans and one she won at last year -- but you miight want to hold off booking your own passage to Hot Springs just yet.

While the Mosses showed no particular enthusiasm when asked about taking Zenyatta to Dubai for the World Cup a week earlier, that's not entirely out of the question. One at least has to consider running in the richest horse race in the history of the planet if you might be even-money to win the front end of a $10 million purse. Even sooner, there's a Santa Anita Handicap to ponder. And both camps might want to delay a showdown until later in the year than April, perhaps even until the fall.

The timing of the Zenyatta announcement at first seemed odd -- why not make it under the spotlight of the Eclipse dinner? -- but makes perfect sense the more you think about it. The Mosses would have been second-guessed for their motives if they had made it after either a victory or defeat at the ballot box. Much better to say you're going to keep running her regardless of how it turns out.

It still will be interesting to see which name is pulled from the envelope at 10:30 ET Monday, an announcement that will be televised live on ESPN News and HRTV as well as part of TVG's coverage of the entire Eclipse Awards ceremony. But instead of half the voters and rooters and participants walking away with the bitter taste of a final verdict on a rivalry between horses who never met, I think the reaction will be more along the lines of -- yeah, whatever, but this story isn't over. 

blackseabass More than 1 year ago
for wilson Ilike that! Zenyatta should win the Zenyatta stakes or maybe just retire. she really has nothing more to prove and 6 yr old mares don't historically run that well when tried, biological clocks and all that. As for renaming the Eclipses that would be one way to make up for that wacky vote and afterall Eclipse wasn't even an American. How about the MANOSECKELFORFFIAN AWARDS I'm sure the voters would be receptive to that name change.
Lizard529 More than 1 year ago
... At the classic distance Zenyatta will demolish RA every day of the week and twice on Sunday, regardless of the venue. Keep your east coat racing with 4 horse fields and washed off the turf 3 horse fields. I'll take a CA race over NY hands down. At least the folks in CA treat the game with respect, not yelling expletives at jockeys in the paddock. I hope the [people] who voted RA as HOY bet a lot of cash if/when the race happens.
bustedbox More than 1 year ago
Anyone looking at the charts of the Woodward Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic would have a hard time justifying a vote for anyone other than Zenyatta for Horse of the Year. Macho Again is a useful handicap horse but he hardly is a match for the star-studded field of the 2009 classic. Rachel Alexandra beat him in the Woodward by what, half a length? Also, Rachel wants no part of a mile and a quarter. I doubt you'll ever see her race at that distance. Rachel better stick to popularity contests. On synthetic or on dirt, Zenyatta would kill her at the championship distance of a mile and one-quarter. Mr. Jackson will make sure you never get a chance to see that happen.
Roosevelt Johnson More than 1 year ago
How in the world can a horse who raced most of it"s career in restricted and subpar races be given top honors over a horse who raced in the open company ranks and faced and defeated the best horses. Hopefully this biased voting of this years awards will be a wake up call and the awarding of year end honors be decided by a fair point system...
wilson More than 1 year ago
Maybe Zenyatta can run in the Zenyatta Stakes. When she's done and she's 20 for 20 or something like that maybe the Eclipse Awards will have to change their name to the Zenyatta Awards.
larry More than 1 year ago
well put mary in vt. the mosses played last year not to lose, it was only when rachel got such a lead in the horse of the year award and they were forced to throw a hail mary did they find the back bone to run her in races where she belongs. jess jackson has got a bum rap from all of this ,he put rachel in races she was mean t to be in and he had the guts to stand up to the breeders cup with regards to these crappy plastic tracks that are ruining racing !
HorseRun More than 1 year ago
someone must have forgotten to mention to Sheriifs that Dubai has switched to the polycrap...
Mary More than 1 year ago
I am thrilled that Zenyatta is not retiring. I hope she runs against Rachael Alexandra some day. I was wondering if Zenyatta wins her next two or even more races in a row won't she be tieing Cigars and Citation's record?
dud dew More than 1 year ago
Nothing fails to stir me like MVP awards and HOYs and Halls of Fame in any sport - silly abstractions in time-honored strategies to steer clear of of a sad and intractable "real" world. But I would enjoy seeing the two great horses in the same race - more than once. A single event will tell us very little. Even three or four is a very small number, but at least somewhat more reliable than a one-shot circus... And I second the notion of including, as far as possible, a quality surrounding cast, male or female. I'm with the crowd that wasn't all that impressed by the competition in any of these horses' more celebrated wins, as entertaining, and even thrilling, as a few of them were.
Dutch More than 1 year ago
Steve, Just saw you on the Eclipse Awards, you clean-up good.