01/19/2010 10:58AM

Rachel Rocks


Not even the considerable star power of Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, could alter the reality of the 2009 Horse of the Year vote, and so the award went to Rachel Alexandra by a margin of 130-99.

In a surprise video apearance, Sting's image beamed down upon the gathered hundreds in the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, like a benign, very hip Big Brother, as the Zenyatta bunch collected her award for champion older filly or mare. (Jerry Moss, of course, ran A&M records, Sting's label.) He wished them luck in the big dance later in the evening. He sang nothing from Zenyatta Mondatta. Not a note.

The result, to be honest, was not a surprise, and the final total provided reassurance to supporters of Rachel Alexandra that nearly 57 percent of the voters agreed that her brilliant season, a mixture of the traditional and the daring, defined the established essence of a Horse of the Year campaign. No new news was made.

Zenyatta's supporters, represented by just over 43 percent of the voters, probably will go to their graves believing that they voted for the best "horse," and never mind what happened over the course of the "year." Theirs was an uphill battle, though, and in some ways it was amazing that Zenyatta got as many as 99 votes, considering the fact that she woke up on the morning of the Breeders' Cup Classic with a total closer to zero. That's a lot of ground to make up on a runaway leader in the clubhouse like Rachel Alexandra in the course of an afternoon's work.

In fact, with just 16 votes required to flip the result, it is not a stretch to suggest that Zenyatta needed only one more piece of meat on the plate and the whole thing could have been hers. It might have been enough had she run and won--instead of scratching from--the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap on Kentucky Oaks Day, for instance, or beaten males on one other occasion, in a race like the Californian at Hollywood Park, or the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita. But she didn't. It's over. The page has turned to 2010.

And now the hard part begins...getting these two horses together. But how hard should it be? In 1923, the powers of racing managed to get Epsom Derby winner Papyrus on an eight-day voyage to New York for a showdown with Kentucky Derby winner Zev. In November of 1938, after a number of head fakes and physical setbacks, the West's Seabiscuit finally met the East's War Admiral. In the years following WWII, superstars Armed, Stymie and Assault tangled so many times people got them confused. In 1964, Kelso and Gun Bow traded blows like LaMotta and Sugar Ray. In 1967 and '68, Dr. Fager and Damascus met four unforgettable times. Then later there was Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, and we all know how we felt while that was going on. Emotions ran so high during their four races that to this day--like abandoned Japanese soldiers on tiny Pacific islands long after the surrender--there are Easy Goer fans who still think he was the better horse. Is this a great game or what?

Except for what Jess Jackson referred to as a "popularity contest"--his description of the Eclipse Awards-- Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta did not meet in 2009 because there was no real opportunity. Now there are nothing but opportunities, and both Jackson and Moss seem ready to seize them.