04/10/2010 6:41PM

Now What


In the wake of Zenyatta's tour of the course on Friday at Oaklawn Park, the racing world now will be roughly divided into a number of constituencies:

Fredastairegingerrogers There will be those who, having exhausted their vocabulary in describing her athletic prowess, will resort to interpreting every nod, prance, pause or flick of the ears as behavior befitting the most famous human they know. Ever the trend-setter, I was out of the box this weekend with a Sinatra reference, but look for any of the following names to be summoned as her season unfolds: Meryl Streep, Margaret Thatcher, Ginger Rogers, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, Paulina Porizkova, or, perhaps best of all, Ella Fitzgerald. 

In another pew, there will be the terminal skeptics, those who still defend the presidency of Warren G. Harding, while dismissing out of hand every race Zenyatta has ever run over a synthetic surface. Two scores in the Apple Blossom are nowhere nearly enough to atone for those sins. Better she had been running solely on dirt in New Mexico. They will not be satisfied until Zenyatta beats the best posible men and boys on the oldest dirt in the land. And the Beyer number had better be good.

To answer their concerns, I have assembled a gang who will speculate endlessly over the coming weeks as to where Zenyatta will pop up next, and then next, and next, before finally touching down at Churchill Downs to defend her title in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Presumably, John Shirreffs is doing this as well. It was interesting to note that Jerry Moss went on record looking for Grade 1 races at a mile and one-eighth in New York and at Churchill Downs. I heard that with a wince, since it was just that kind of hopeful speculation that came back to bite the owner in 2009 when Zenyatta ended up staying in California. But then, where else would she run? How about here:

--June 12, $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, 1 1/8 miles, Churchill Downs

--Aug. 1, $250,000 Ruffian Handicap, 1 1/8 miles, Saratoga

--Sept. 4, $750,000 Woodward Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, Saratoga

After that it's the Beldame at Belmont and then on to the Breeders' Cup.

As long as we're shopping on someone else's dime, there is also the Ogden Phipps at Belmont on June 12, the Delaware Handicap on July 17, and the Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 7, as well as the temptation of the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic out here in the synthetic West. (For the sentimental, there is also the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 29).

The races listed above, though, would be a conventional, classic route, in perfect keeping with the way Moss looks at the sport. Great as Zenyatta is, Moss sees no reason to place his mare above the game, holding tracks hostage until they come up with some kind of contrived, mega-event. The only variation I would urge them to consider would be a radical, daring move. And that would be to take on Quality Road in the $500,000 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park on May 31. That might end the debate too soon, but what a mile it would be.

There is another group, over there in the quiet part of the room, still clinging to the hope that Rachel Alexandra will evolve into a formidable 4-year-old presence and take Zenyatta by the throat. We can only hope. I was not encouraged, however, while listening to her trainer, Steve Asmussen, interviewed by Roger Stein during his Saturday morning, Southern California-based radio show.

Asmussen was entertaining on a variety of subjects, but when it comes to Rachel Alexandra, he sounds like a man trying to discuss nuclear capabilities without the proper security clearance. What he did say, and it was revealing, was that while Rachel Alexandra is in fine fettle physically, his crew has been so far "unsuccessful" in returning her to what Asmussen defines as her competitive level of last year.

In some ways, this is liberating. For too long, for too many fans, it has been hard to think of Zenyatta without bringing Rachel Alexandra into the conversation, or discuss the future of Rachel Alexandria without accounting for Zenyatta's presence in the mix. Now, with Asmussen all but warning us off, we can only step back and wish him and the filly well, while savoring the big mare in action.

John C. More than 1 year ago
"...appears that that RA will not be the same that she was last year when they flew her all over the country and gutted her in the Woodward? Why are they mad that Zs' people didn't run her like a slave driver just to say that they did this or that? Its one thing to win a great race like the Woodward, its another to Ruin your horse to do it." Stephanie, anyone who has followed racing for more than a few years knows that horses are not "ruined" by running eight times per year nor are they harmed by flying from track to track. Your contention would label the vast majority of champion racehorse owners of the 20th century as "slave-drivers" and abusers. The fact that, in recent times, horses have been treated as if they were made of porcelain has become an ugly and self-fulfilling prophecy. Rachel's current state has more to do with her unnecessarily long time away from doing what she does best than the maverick schedule that she amazed everyone with last year. Zenyatta was the one who was robbed last year; there was NO reason to give her such a sparse schedule, given her excellent shape and her ability to be race-ready, given her truly non-taxing efforts. Thankfully, she was given ONE challenge worthy of her greatness (the BC Classic) and seems to be scheduled for more races that might interest her more than a workout; looking forward to seeing her ears move about as she passes by everyone in the stretch again this year.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
Jay .. .. A previous post about how to determine entries into the Derby .. didn't get much traction.. How about posting the top 20 by earnings "if you subtract all 2 year old earnings and GS-$ .. for races less than 8.5f .." Then post that list next to the current list of all GS-$ earnings .. Might produce an interesting prospective ..? Thanks RoMo
Bill B. More than 1 year ago
I've always thought the better of the two horses was Zenyatta, but there is no denying that the horse that did the most last year on the ractrack was Rachel Alexandra and she deserved Horse of the Year. z
Lakotasblaze More than 1 year ago
There are a lot of amusing comments here (fun is what it's all about isn't it?). There are also a lot of intelligent comments as well as some from deluded individuals, so I thought I would jump right in. I'm hoping and praying Zenyatta does race at the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. I bought my tickets today and all that was left were standing room only, general admission. Maybe everybody else is gambling she shows up too. If she doesn't, I'm only out $3 a ticket. Churchill Downs is the only place within driving distance for me and I don't want to miss a chance to see her in person. Does anybody have advice on how to get a good look at her with my general admission ticket, how early to get there and anything else that might be helpful. The ticket has an 11:30 am time on it. Should I camp out like I'm waiting for a Led Zeppalin concert? I've got that kind of excitement and I'm showin' my age. I've never been there and never even been to a big race. I know these ladies have put a shot of adrenalin into the sport. Also there have been a lot of comments about RA being used up, burnt out, not recovering. What do you make of her most recent workout, described in the press as a bullet?
john thomas More than 1 year ago
Ok changing up the topic a bit. Jay, how do you manage to live with a great lady of your own. She is amazing and has so much character. Do you run when she gets mad. I would...I loved the one comment. Jay, I think your wife is going to hit someone. I laughed my A** off. You are a lucky guy. Best wishes and hope she is healthy again.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
... I'm sure .. RA will be back .. The connections do wield some power.. They'll find a track that will write a race/stakes where she'll get 7-9 pounds and can get an off-track .. .. "food for thought" .. in RA's 8 races in 09 .. how many wins did the horses she faced have a 9f ..? How many of the those wins where -sub 1:49's ..? How many races did RA win where she had to give weight .. ? RA could likely do the same as last year .. if the connections would get out of her way .. and just let her do "it" her way .. Two exceptional mares with absolutely opposite running styles.. One has shown to be one of the all-time Great mares.. The other could be ..? All the hyperbole about surface and competitors is "speculative hot-air" .. never to be resolved unless and until they are actually to meet up in the same race ..
john thomas More than 1 year ago
The way I see it is that Big Z makes her rivals look that bad. Same with RA. Lets be fair. They are heads above the rest of their class. To constantly criticize who they run against all you have to do is consider that these 2 greats make them look that way. The same will be said for Quality Road. People just like to complain and try to knock others. So lets take RA, Zenyatta, QR out of the picture. Do the rest of these so called bad fields suddenly become great horses who took turns beating each other up. Life is Sweet is a quality mare. Watch out for Summer Bird this year. People just like to hear themselves sound like they know what they are talking about insteda of giving a horse credit. Peopl complain about the size of the fields Z runs against. Would you go around the country racing for 2nd place against Z. Nooooooo... I am digressing, people just enjoy. You will regret it when she is retired. Hmmmm.... Zenyatta and ???? Now there is a good debate. It won't be Curlin.
Tawny Madison More than 1 year ago
Get over it. RA v Z is yesterday's news. There is only one horse in racing right now that is consistently brilliant.
billy More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta would have lapped Rachel on plastic, dirt, turf, asphalt, concrete, hot coals or whatever -- last year, this year or whenever. The only problem is Bambi Rachel will never be fed to T-REX Zenyatta. Sure Rachel won HOY but that wasn't Horse Of the Year, that was HYPE Of the YEAR.
jorge o More than 1 year ago
To all Rachel's fans, she is the best female ever to run!it's that what all you guys want to hear.Well,now let Queen Z alone. All Rachel did was win all those G1 against mediocre horses. Zenyatta also beat so many mediocres horse,but those mediocres were horses that Zardana couldn't handle.and who this mediocre horse beat?I guess was Rachel.They making excuses that she was only 90 porcent ready, but if she is that good ,should be enough to beat any mediocre horse.In that race if Zardana did not run RA win by 11 and will start talking she is the best ever again.Now RA fans are looking on Quality Road to beat Z. Most RA fans just want Zenyatta to loose. Just enjoy anytime Z run cause any race she win you all are watching history.