06/29/2009 4:42PM

Rachel vs. Zenyatta?


Like a large locomotive slowly building momentum, Zenyatta crept up to the leaders entering the far turn of Saturday's Vanity Handicap.  Despite her undefeated record and 3-10 post time odds, one could feel the tension in the steamy simulcast facility. 

"She's too far behind," exclaimed one punter.

"She doesn't look comfortable," chimed in another.

"What's Smith waiting for?" asked one more worried fan.

The concern was contagious.  For a moment, no one spoke.  Then, Zenyatta did the talking.  If Mike Smith was a conductor on the big train, he would have blasted the horn.  Zenyatta dropped her massive head, and picked up steam.  For the eleventh straight time, she circled her foes, and then passed them with a minimum of fuss.  For the eleventh straight time, she crossed the wire in front.  For the eleventh straight time, she returned to the winner's circle to bask in the wild cheers of her home crowd.

Less than thirty minutes earlier, and 3,000 miles to the East, the main challenger to Zenyatta's claim as best horse in North America, Rachel Alexandra, absolutely crushed two overmatched foes in the historic Mother Goose Stakes.  Rachel is younger, more tactical, and arguably more exciting than Zenyatta.  She's frenzied dance music to Zenyatta's classic rock.  Different strokes for different folks, but true aficionados enjoy the best of both genres. 
Rachel Alexandra won the Mother Goose by 19 1/4 lengths.  A remarkable feat to be sure, but the margin of victory still fell a length shy to her amazing performance in the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May.  Rachel Alexandra has won her last three starts by a combined 40 1/2 lengths.  The combined margin of all eleven of Zenyatta's wins stands at 26. 
They are two of the best thoroughbreds we've seen in recent years, and they couldn't be more different.  Zenyatta likes to lope along at the back of the pack, and doesn't kick into gear until the final three-eighths of a mile. She has won on dirt, but is the poster girl for synthetic racing.
Rachel Alexandra likes to be near the action from the opening bell.  Sure, she "rated" in the Mother Goose, but only because her opponents engaged in cutthroat fractions in front of her.  No doubt, Rachel likes to hear her feet rattle, and she can keep that pace up for a long time.  Plus, she earned her reputation by beating the best males of her year in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing's hallowed Triple Crown.
Will they ever meet?  The odds are against it.  Racehorses are fragile creatures.  One misstep in the stall can cause a multiple-month respite from competition.  Zenyatta will likely retire at the end of the year.  Rachel's connections won't ship to Zenyatta's home base to run on a synthetic surface. But, if they do.  If they do. It would be the battle racing fans, denied a Big Brown vs. Curlin clash last fall, have demanded for years.  There's nothing like star power to sell a heavyweight bout.  Zenyatta vs. Rachel?  A racing fan can dream.

So, who would you take?


Here are the winning Beyer Speed Figures from last week's stakes races:

*Mother Goose (Bel):  Rachel Alexandra (S. Asmussen/C. Borel) - 111

*Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (PrM):  Jonesboro (R. Morse/M. Berry) - 109
*King Edward (WO):  Rahy's Attorney (I. Black/S. Callaghan) - 106
*Iowa Sprint (PrM):  EZ Dreamer (R. Owens/G. Corbett) - 105
*Fratello Ed (Bel):  Wishful Tomcat (R. Dutrow Jr./R. Dominguez) - 105
*Vanity (Hol):  Zenyatta (J. Shirreffs/M. Smith) - 104
*Donald LeVine Memorial (Pha):  Kodiak Kowboy (J. Jones/G. Saez) - 102
*Primal (Crc):  Motovato (M. Wolfson/J. Bridgmohan) - 102

*Iowa Derby (PrM):  Duke of Mischief (D. Fawkes/E. Coa) - 98
*Iowa Distaff (PrM):  Euphony (M. Berry/D. Von Hemel) - 97
*Beverly Hills (HOl):  Black Mamba - NZ (J. Sadler/G. Gomez) - 96
*Pink Ribbon Invitational (Stk):  Carbonite (D. Patterson/C. Schvaneveldt) - 95
*Saylorville (PrM):  Lady Chace (S. Margolis/T. Thompson) - 93
*Indiana Live! Casino (Ind):  Meadow Saffron (F. Seitz/L. Goncalves) - 93
*Tacoma (EmD):  Winning Machine (D. Harwood/R. Frazier) - 93
*Polar Expedition (AP):  Rumor Has It (D. Hinsley/E. Perez) - 92
*Sabellina (Bel):  Nehantic Kat (B. Tagg/R. Maragh) - 91
*San Juan County Commissioners (SRP):  Black Hills (B. Hone/C. Martinez) - 90
*Boiling Springs (Mth):  Mary's Follies (J. Forbes/S. Elliott) - 90
*My Dear (WO):  Midst (M. Casse/P. Husbands) - 90

*Perfect Sting (Bel):  Dame Ellen (C. Brown/J. Lezcano) - 89
*Da Hoss (Cnl):  Izzy Speaking (H. Smith/R. Homeister Jr.) - 87
*Minnesota H.P.B.A Mile (Cby):  Mizzcan'tbewrong (R. Scherer/P. Nolan) - 87
*First Flight (Bel):  Porte Bonheur (D. Duggan/R. Dominguez) - 87
*Muscogee (Creek) Nation (FMT):  Waterloo Slew (J. Offolter/F. Wethey Jr.) - 84
*Crank It Up (Mth):  Girlfrienontheside (A. Dutrow/C. Lopez) - 82
*Iowa Oaks (PrM):  Hightap (S. Asmussen/S. Bridgmohan) - 82
*Sweepida Invitational (Stk):  Kaweah Princess (J. Hollendorfer/W. Antongeorgi III) - 82
*Lulu's Ransom (Crc):  Many Kisses (D. Fawkes/J. Sanchez) - 81
*Rise Jim (Suf):  No More Goodbyes (B. McCarthy/Y. Rosario) - 81
*Debutante (CD):  Decelerator (D. Lukas/J. Leparoux) - 80

*Fronteir Trophy Buckles Allowance (SRP):  Stormy Express (J. Claridge/A. Cruz) - 78
*Sierra Blanca (Rui):  Gulchrunssweet (B. Hone/Q. Bui) - 77
*Dine (SRP):  Lefty Who (J. Marr/C. Madeira) - 76
*Lone Star Oaks (LS):  My Spanx (A. Milligan/M. Escobar) - 75
*Bison City (WO):  Dance for Us (B. Minshall/C. Sutherland) - 74
*Chariot Chaser (NP):  Dandy Dora (G. Tracy/R. Walcott) - 72

*Kansas Bred Sunflower (Eur):  Manovan (J. Thomas/S. Whittle) - 65
*Larkspur (Pnl):  Yawm Estoora (R. Inman/A. Stanley) - 64
*Cincinnatian (RD):  Gathering Dreams (J. Shuman/C. Pilares) - 62
*Hazel Wright Sire (AsD):  Premier Star (T. Lindsay/C. Marquez) - 61
*Sophomore Sprint (MD):  J C's Action (R. Gardipy/S. Rodrigo) - 60
*Manhattan (Eur):  Talk and Sing (K. Hurley/S. Whittle) - 60

*Yavapai County Arizona Breeders Futurity (Yav):  Napili Point (T. Bartol/M. Hernandez) - 54

*Ruffian (ArP):  Jilly Bean Queen (F. Christoffersen/T. Wales) - 47
*Totah (SRP):  Quinton's Place (T. Fincher/J. Bourdieu) - 47

*State Fair Futurity (Lnn):  Lou Lou Larue (D. Anderson/D. Leeds) - 39
*M D Ambulance (MD):  Joan Kardoo (R. Tourangeau/A. Wright) - 35

Here are the lifetime past performances of the highest and lowest Beyer stakes performers of the week:

Download RachelJoan


Does anyone know what happened to Bob Black Jack?
He won a Grade 1 sprint at the end of the year. Then he apparently had some undisclosed injury. Has he been retired? Is he going to race again?
Anne M

Bob Black Jack suffered a leg injury after winning the Malibu on December 26.  His trainer, Jim Kasparoff, has targeted the end of 2009 for the colt's return to the races.  You can follow Bob Black Jack's progress on the FormBlog Disabled List located on the right side of the page.


Mr. Illman,
Why are the times at Ascot so slow? The track record for a mile is 1:38 and change. The 1 1/2 miles record is 2:27.24. Also Ghanaati broke Henrythenavigator's 1m track record. Henry ran very well in the B.C. Classic last year. Is Ghanaati a B.C. Classic contender. Also, given the slow times at Ascot, are shorter distances over their equal to longer distances in the U.S.? For example is a 6f race at Ascot just as taxing as a 1m race in the U.S.? If so could a horse like Cannonball be a good miler in the U.S. and Ghanaati good at 1 1/4 miles in the U.S.?
Captain Bodgit

Ghanaati holds the track record for the right-handed mile at Ascot (1:38.32).  That is slow compared to racetracks like Doncaster (1:34.46) Newmarket (1:34.07), and Goodwood (1:35.61). 
Alan Shuback's book, Global Racing, is a must-read for fans interested in European form.  In his chapter on Ascot, Shuback writes, "One-mile races are run on both the right-handed course (the Old Mile) and the straight course.  Those run over the Old Mile (St. James's Palace Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes) start from a chute at Swinley Bottom and are entirely uphill until the eighth pole.  Straight miles (Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Hunt Cup) are mildly undulating until reaching the head of the stretch."
Shuback notes that Doncaster is "virtually level," and that may account for the faster mile time there. 
Combine the uphill nature of the Ascot course with the often rain-soaked ground and the European style of holding up horses until the important final furlongs, and the times are simply going to be slower than what we're used to in America. 
Due to the stamina-building nature of many European courses, some horses can be expected to stretch their stamina a quarter of a mile or so longer than their best distance in Europe.  We saw that with Raven's Pass, a strong miler in Europe, in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. 


Dan - curious what you think of the Queen's Plate winner Eye of The Leopord. He has the breeding and is lightly raced. Seems to be more of a plodder than anything - but Frostad is convinced he'll move up on dirt. It's been a while since a Canadian bred has done anything state-side in the big route races. Thoughts? And what ever happened to Harlam Rocker?

You have to love his pedigree as he's a son of the great A.P. Indy out of Selene Stakes and Woodbine Oaks winner Eye of the Sphinx.  He's a lightly-raced runner with plenty of upside potential, but he's still a bit too green for my liking.  I think he'll make a very nice horse at the end of the year, and with the handicap ranks virtually depleted in the United States, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Frostad decides to ship here for the big races in the fall.  If he does, you do have to wonder if the demanding Canadian Triple Crown series will take some of the starch out of him.  I'd like to see him compete in some nice stakes races next year at Fair Grounds as he has the look of a horse that will continue to improve with added maturity.
Harlem Rocker reportedly got sick earlier this year.  The original plan was to get him back in training by the summer, but he hasn't registered a workout since January.  He is on our disabled list on the right-hand side of the blog.


Could you please post Stormy Pick's PPs?

Here they are:

Download Stormy pick


Congrats to Walt for finishing first in last week's HandiGambling endeavor.  He selects the fourth race from Penn National on Wednesday for this week's exercise.  Here are the past performances:

Download HandiGambling140

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan."   Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place.  The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are.  I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.


Take care,