04/10/2010 5:41PM

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.