08/31/2010 2:05PM

Rachel's Limitations Exposed

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There are so many things to say about Rachel Alexandra's performance at Saratoga on Sunday, one hardly knows where to begin. Let's start by saying that her second-place finish to Persistently in the Personal Ensign Stakes proves conclusively that she does not stay 1 1/4 miles.
One of the illusions surrounding this very nice but always overrated filly was that she might stay 10 furlongs. But Mine That Bird was getting to her going 1 3/16 miles in the '09 Preakness, and she was life and death to hold off the Grade 2 type Macho Again in last September's Woodward at 1 1/8 miles. After posting modest fractions on Sunday, it took her about 27.5 second to traverse the last quarter. Anything beyond 1 1/8 miles from this point would be a recipe for defeat.
Two other factors led to her defeat in the Personal Ensign. One is that she failed to improve as a 4-year-old, and may have retrogressed a bit. It is very likely that her connections were well aware of this as far back as midwinter, as they gave her an unusually lengthy 6 1/2-month vacation after her Woodward exertions, then ran her twice against vastly inferior competition in ungraded stakes. Even running a horse of her caliber in Grade 2 filly and mare races was a copout, one that had racing fans throughout the world questioning Steve Asmussen's choice of races for the 2009 Horse of the Year.
Having twice beaten males at the Grade 1 level as a 3-year-old, there was really no justification for the weak distaff competition Rachel Alexandra had faced prior to Sunday. The underlying reason for horse racing is, after all, is to determine the best horse. Running Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies, the La Troienne, the Fleur de Lis and the Lady's Secret, two of which she lost, defeats the purpose.
Her avoidance of Zenyatta is as much the fault of that mare's connections as it is that of Asmussen and Rachel's owners at Stonestreet Stable. Yes, America is a vey big country with lots of opportunities for horses in any division in all regions. But that is no excuse for depriving us of a race between the two. Now that Rachel Alexandra has shown that she can't stay 1 1/4 miles, any chance of a meeting with Zenyatta has very likely gone up in the Personal Ensign dust.
Such a thing could never happen in Europe where Sariska and Midday, the two best distaffers in England and Ireland, have run against seach other four times in the last two years. By the same token, the 4-year-old Sariska is slated to meet the 3-year-old Sarafina, France's best filly or mare, in the Prix Vermeille on Sept. 12. In Europe, owners and trainers are not shy of running the best against the best.
One of the problems with American racing is that owners are too often are more interested in winning money than in proving that they have the best horse. Or to put it another way, they are more afraid of losing than they are desirous of winning, especially when they have a "big" horse. The idea seems to play out the illusion of greatness for as long as possible. That appears to be what they were doing with Rachel Alexandra, and now her bubble has burst.
And so Rachel will probably never meet Zenyatta who, while she has been running in Grade 1 events this year, has spent much of her time beating up on an inferior bunch of West Coast females.
Just as Rachel Alexandra may have been softened up by running agsinst nonentities until Sunday, and so was unprepared for the early pressure applied by Life at Ten and the late pressure applied by Persistently, Zenyatta must be on her guard. Taking the measure of Rinterval, St Trinians and Tapatam as she has this season is not necessarily going to prepare her for the likes of Lookin at Lucky, Blame and Quality Road she might be meeting in a defense of her Breeders' Cup Classic title.