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.

wynn More than 1 year ago
Rachel was definitely overrated. She beat weak males that any previous decent 3 year old filly would also beat.
David More than 1 year ago
Alan, The one area not discussed is the flawed Eclipse voting system that anointed Rachel Alexandra Horse of the Year in the first place. The HOY is like an albatross, reminding everyone of the vote last year. The East Coast bias, now more familiar to the public, is not just seen in the media that covers horseracing nationally and which is concentrated in that region. But it is also evident in the make-up of the Eclipse awards. For example, most of the people voting are not from the West, where Zenyatta was based. A lopsided number of voters are in the East. Whoever runs the Eclipse needs to change its make-up and/or the voting process so that the entire country is more evenly reflected. Most of the East Coast-based media elite appear to have a bias for horses that run on the dirt and are against the synthetic tracks, putting Zenyatta and other horses that run on the synthetic at a distinct disadvantage that has nothing to do with their performance on the track. To the handler’s credit, they have run Zenyatta based on her well-being; they do not focus on the surface. She has raced nearly 3 years and held form. If the Eclipse people do the right thing, Zenyatta will win HOY, breaking the synthetic ceiling. It will not undo the vote of last year, but may restore some credibility to the Eclipse Awards. The main people putting pressure on RA’s handlers to run her in the Breeder’s Cup Classic are those that voted her HOY. It is as if they need validated their votes of last year. They are not thinking in the interests of the horse. For one, she is most likely not a Classic distance runner; her sire, Medaglia D’Oro, won only one Grade I at 1 ¼. The handlers last year ran a clever campaign, running RA in the Preakness, the shortest of the Triple Crown races. They bypassed the Belmont. They ducked Zenyatta in the Classic, which is at 1 ¼, using the synthetic surface as the reason. The point to add to your cogent comments is that Zenyatta beat the toughest horses to run last year. She is the first female thoroughbred in history to win the Classic. She came out of retirement, in part, to face RA, on the dirt track in the Apple Blossom this year. But once again the handlers were a no-show. There are no Alydars or Easy Goers right now. With a few exceptions, including Blame, who appears to relish the longer distances, and Looking at Lucky, who else does Zenyatta need to run against. They can all meet in the Classic. Even if Zenyatta makes it to this year’s Classic and wins it will not prove much more than we already know. If she runs and loses most likely it will not be because of the competition she faced or lack thereof.
racing_enthusiast More than 1 year ago
A few observations / personal thoughts come to mind here. Rachel Alexandra's 2009 Horse of the Year honors were rightly justified. We witnessed a brilliant campaign by a 3-year-old filly in the top of her form -even besting the boys. Nuff said. However, I believe her trainer should have been experienced enuf to realize that these moments, no matter how long they last at the time, cannot continue indefinitely, and that Rachel Alexandra was probably not the "type" of horse that would improve in her later years. That brings us to Zenyatta, who showed us that she *was* capable of being that "type" of horse, given her running style, stocky build, and grit. She reminds of another Horse of the Year, a two-timer, and a cross-over to the harness world if you will allow me, to a great racehorse named Cam Fella, who won 28 races in a row in 1983 by extremely narrow margins -- the point being he was a champion and refused to be defeated, much like Zenyatta. So what is my point - give Rachel her due, praise Zenyatta for her lasting superiority, and above all, enjoy it all. Oh BTW, seeing how the European horses tend to dominate the Breeder's Cup races often enuf, I'd really welcome a race or two between America's best mare and Europe's best.
JR More than 1 year ago
Mr. Shuback, I'm surprised by your comment of avoidance. The racing picture is very different in N.A. in that you have various race tracks offering (competing) similar type/class/purses. Where in Europe this rarely occurs, so you get these matchups so desired by the public. And that is one of the problems facing the N.A. racing industry today.
Travis More than 1 year ago
Alan, "...always overrated filly"? Are you kidding? Sure, Rachel's 2010 campaign is in no way comparable to her 2009 campaign. The same campaign that ultimately led to her being crowned the Horse of the Year. The same campaign where she won 8 races including beating the boys 3 times. The same campaign that she won the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward. The Preakness in which no other filly has won in 84 years. The same Haskell that she beat Summer Bird (who happen to win 3 year old male honors) by over 6 lengths and posted a 116 Beyer. And the same Woodward that she ran into super quick early fractions (22.85, 46.41, 1:10:54, 1:35:48, 1:48:29) and still held off a deep closer in Macho Again. Did you even watch these races? Or do you believe that because she won horse of the year that she should be able to replicate that same campaign in 2010? Because if so that's a little unrealistic and maybe you should come back to reality. Obviously she had a tough campaign that deservingly led to horse of the year and the price she had to pay for that was a year like you're seeing in 2010. It also sounds like you are trying to discredit the competition she raced against in 2009. I'm not sure but I thought the Preakness, Haskell, Woodward, and several other races in her 2009 campaign were formidable G1 races. Is it not good enough that she won those races? Is it her fault that she only beat Mine That Bird in the Preakness? I'm not sure how you could justify implying that somehow because those horses that she beat doesn't compare to Blame, Quality Road, or Lookin' At Lucky that she doesn't deserve the praise for her 2009 campaign. Which by the way, take a look at this years field for the Woodward. A field of six in which Quality Road's main contenders are Mythical Power (a multiple Grade 3 winner) and ....wait for it....Mine That Bird! The same competition you bash Rachel for beating in the Preakness. And maybe RA isn't a mile and a quarter horse. Maybe she doesn't like going the extra distance. Or maybe it was her first shot at it and again the early fractions were too much to maintain till the end. But somehow I get the impression that you don't really watch these races and don't understand pace. But regardless of your lack of horse racing knowledge, to discredit her 2009 campaign because of her 2010 campaign is just ridiculous and proves you don't really know much about the game.
Gary C More than 1 year ago
100% correct about Rachael this year, but a bit harsh on her very ambitious campaign last year. The point you make about US horsemen not running their horses against the best is one of many reasons that the racing industry is in a steep decline. I was at the Wynn racebook for 2 weeks this summer and the age of the people wagering was well over 50. But I have lost respect for Jess Jackson and am more than ever convinced that the synthetic track had nothing to do with the defeat of Curlin. As far as Zenyatta,s victory in the classic, how have the horses done that she defeated last year? Goldikova is the horse people should be talking about.
Lee More than 1 year ago
Bravo! Well said, old chap. I would like to point out that every racing mare in the US could be included in the "inferior bunch" that dare take on Zenyatta. Why would her connections chase across this big country (not a little island) to take on expected (but never dare show up) competition? As far as the boys go, well, they didn't fare any better than the girls last year. Why not just wait for them all to show up at once as was the case last year? Ah, but trouncing the best group of G1 males in 2009 is not enough, is it? Unfortunately for racing, winning the BC is not the same as winning the Super Bowl or World Series (I can't imagine the Yankees not showing up because the game would be played on Astro-turf) and we must wait and hope that the brotherhood of East Coast voters admit to the difference between RA and the great Zenyatta.
Jack More than 1 year ago
It is a shame that Biz Z has been given such a conservative run this year. Don't blame the horse that she is being forced to run against inferior stock for most of the year. I think she can beat any horse in the world right now on the dirt or poly, but she just has not been given the chance. I dont blame the owners I guess, as you have to be thankful they elected to bring her back this year, but it just seems like a one in a lifetime opportunity has been whittled away. She has been relegated to beating the same lifeless bunch of mares each start. It adds little to her legend. Her owners don't want to travel much. Fine. Why not try the Pacific Classic? The SA Handicap? Why not try the greatest feat in the past 20 years and sweep the Pacific, Gold Cup, SA Handicap, and the BC Classic? I think she could have done it, but alas we will never know.
Andrew More than 1 year ago
I don't think it is fair to say Zenyatta has been beating an :"inferior bunch of west coast mares" First of all, what about St. Trinians? Second, What would be the difference if she beat an inferior bunch of east coast mares? Is there any mare on the east coast or anywhere in America who would be a challenge for Zenyatta?? Look what happened in the Apple Blossoms...
Michael More than 1 year ago
RA's 3yr old season was exceptional granted...but the east coast bias took away from Zenyatta's season. During RA's run last year she managed to beat Mine That Bird who is still looking for another win. Summer Bird ended up as the top male 3yr old and his last win was the JCGC last year. The older males she faced in the Woodward....who were they? Other than Summer Bird how many horses RA beat last year returned to win grade 1 races? The 3yr old divisions male and female last year wasn't the strong easy to see why RA excelled against them. Zenyatta faced the best the world had to offer and ran them ragged...including a couple the RA managed to beat. Think about this.....Zenyatta has to face competition who's only hope to beat her is to slow the race to crawl. Yet she still wins.... the last time she faced racehorse fractions was the BCC and she won going away! Was RA overrated? Maybe a tad. Does she have distance limitations? Yes she does but she did put on a show LAST YEAR! Zenyatta just put on a better one and the beat still goes on 18 and counting;-}
Bob More than 1 year ago
Finally, the word 'overrated' appears in the same paragraph as the word Rachel Alexandra at drf.com. Rather than the dishonest drivel of Crist and Beyer, it takes the European guy to write a column that even comes close to the truth. My only contention would be to remind (inform?) you that St. Trinians was favored against GI males in the Santa Anita Handicap, when suffering a rough trip and finishing just off the board. Dismissing her as some throwaway is simply misguided.
Rachel More than 1 year ago
Alan, Stop "rating" racehorses, please. Last year the eastern no-nothing sports writers, except for Joe Drape of the NYT, were sure that Z would lose the BCC. Thinking they must know something I didn't, I passed up the minimum bet window where my intuition said, "Bet on Zenyatta." Now you tell me that her inferior competition this year doesn't measure up to LAL, QR, Blame, and maybe others. How about the competition she mowed down last year at the BCC? So, as of this year last year's colts were inferior, right? I laugh when I read that Zenyatta's competition has always been inferior. Of course they were. Zenyatta is a great racehorse. Yes, I'm sorry that Z didn't meet up with RA, but she went to the Apple Blossom. I praise her connections for looking out for her, not for wanting to make money. The fact that she is sound at 17.2 hands after 18 straight wins speaks volumes about the care she has justly received. I'm tired of sportswriters who run her down. And I'm tired of sportswriters who run Rachel down, too, by the way. Low class. How incredibly lucky we've been to see the likes of these two fillies.
Craig M More than 1 year ago
Anyone thinking the fractions was moderate doesn't understand much about pace and is not doing his homework. Even without a clock or pace figures, a blind man could see that the two best horses opening up 15+ lengths on the field while banging each other and being wide on the first turn then getting run down by an inferior plodder indicates the pace was light years from moderate. Stick to you are of expertise, pace clearly isn't it.
Jason More than 1 year ago
Agreed that Rachel is an extremely overrated filly. She clearly cannot stay a mile and a quarter against any kind of decent competition. The fact that she is inferior at navigating AMERICA"S CLASSIC DISTANCE surely has to take away from her accomplishments going 1 1/8 miles. American racing's true champions are champions who dominated at 1 1/4 miles - Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Damascus, Forego, and yes ZENYATTA. What is most sad is that Jackson and Asmussen are much too chicken to face Zenyatta (especially at 1 1/4 miles). Jackson's EGO won't allow him to face Zenyatta in the BC Classic. The thought of Rachel getting demolished at Churchill Downs by a superior mare is too devastating for him to endure. For that, he is a coward and most certainly not a sportsman in the thoroughbred game. So, it will be a few more Grade 2's or some ungraded stakes for Rachel until it iis time for her to qwuietly slither away with her tail between her legs, having thoroughtly enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame. Bon Voyage Rachel. Will look for you in the entries of 1 1/8 mile second stringer races. I hope Jackson's and Asmussen's heart are ripped out as Zenyatta makes her way to the BC Classic where REAL CHAMPIONS are stamped and remembered!
LouAnn Cingel More than 1 year ago
I have the firm belief that Zenyatta will retain her crown and win the 2010 Breeder's Cup Classic which will likely be her swan song. She'll move like a freight train, full steam ahead, passing and mowing 'em down one by one, hitting the wire first making record breaking history doing what no other horse has done in the history of thoroughbred racing-and doing it in Zenyatta style. GO ZENYATTA-NO.1! God be with you Zenyatta and keep you safe and sound- My Love & Blessings To Zenyatta & All Her Connections LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri
aikenite More than 1 year ago
Overrated? Hardly. Her 2009 season was full of superlative performances, and solid Beyer Figs. I don't think her pedigree is suspect either. Here's an angle. Steve Asmussen is an overrated horseman who hasn't properly prepared her for the season. They should have kept Hal Wiggins.
Jose93 More than 1 year ago
All this proves as someone who is English and lives in England, is that American racing needs to finally get to grips with the Graded Stakes issue more than anything else. The issue is that there are too many Grade 1's in America. In Europe we are slowly seeing too many Group 1 races, like the Prix Jean Romanet. Like it or not some huge cuts need to be made. History has a place, but the problem is demonstrated by having the Travers Stakes run on the same weekend as the Pacific Classic with both holding Grade 1 status. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have both won some complete fantasy Grade 1's. Rachel Alexandra simply gapped terrible fields in quick times in both the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose last year to make it seem acceptable. They are not Grade 1 wins, though, and anyone who believes they are needs help. There are other issues, but when one country, however big it is, has 113 Grade 1 races, and that number will probably increase, something is wrong. Many are meaningless as true Grade 1's and they allow, and almost encourage, top horses to avoid each other. Of course, the mentality shows alarmingly when it was considered an amazing achievement that Rachel Alexandra beating colts and geldings last year in Grade 1 company. Maybe Dirt racing is tougher physically on fillies, although that is entirely debatable, but she was receiving a sex allowance expressed in weight yet it was remarkable she won? Well it wouldn't have been quite so remarkable in Europe or in Australia.
Sandra More than 1 year ago
I agree with most of the article. Its about time someone is realistic about RA and her achievements. I often wonder if Jess Jackson could have purchased her and left her with her original trainer. Anyway, I always find it interesting how most columnists knock the competiton that Zenyatta has beaten. Don't the great ones all make their competition forgettable? Can anyone recall who finished third in Affirmed's Belmont? Zenyatta has crushed a long list of graded stakes winners including the Kentucky Derby winner and the Eclipse winning three YO male and older Turf horse. Pace, distance and competition haven't mattered; she just keeps winning and will continue to win including the 2010 BC Classic.
Sysonby More than 1 year ago
You are right about European racing. I have forgotten the exact details of that exciting contest between Zarkava and Goldikova, but I know it must have been spectacular.
Steve More than 1 year ago
A few points about all of this... First, no filly has ever accomplished at age 3 what RA did last year. I think she has paid the price. Fillies should not face Grade 1 colts at age 3 in distance races. Second, I feel that thoroughbreds should not race at all until the fall of their 3-year-old season. Guess who followed that path? That's right, Zenyatta. Rachel's still developing structure was abused by Jackson and Asmussen in 2009. A colt can certainly take that better than a filly however. The Rachel Alexandra we saw in 2009 IS Rachel Alexandra. She won those races at all those tracks against both fillies and colts. You cannot overrate a performance after it is already in the books. Give me a break. Zenyatta remains the most overrated horse male or female of all time. She has been "carried" like a champion boxer through her 3, 4, 5, and 6-year-old seasons. Rachel has already raced at age 4 one more time than Z has at age 6. Zenyatta has left CA only twice and faced males only once and most of her victories have been slow times against female plow horses. She has even avoided the prestigous races in her own backyard like say the "Big Cap". Had she won a few of these real races in her career you would have no argument from any knowledgeable lover of this game. I know that both Rachel and Zenyatta are awesome fillies but only one of the two has been allowed to prove it. And she unfortunately has paid the price.
Cindy More than 1 year ago
right to the point, Hexicon. I had my fill of match races with Ruffian, there was a filly for the ages whose light went out way too early. I love both RA & Zen, and to me it's the thrill of the race, the beauty of God's most unbelievable speed on four legs, the look in their eyes. Zen's dance, RA's look of royalty. Somewhere along the way in America we seem to have lost that ability to experience that feeling, in the quest for the money, behind the glass, over the TV, on the computer. We might as well be pulling a handle. At least both of these camps have had the fortitude to continue to race these great horses, so we can see them, talk about them, and sometimes even experience their presence in person. If only
Frank from Kentucky More than 1 year ago
we were all a bit discouraged with Rachels' performance on Sunday, but that in no way diminishes her greatness of last year. Her internal fractions in the Personal Ensign were equal too many of her races last year and she would just continue on. My thinking is she actually had too much time off and then was basically rushed back. There's a big difference between a colt making the transition from 3 to 4 and a filly. She has definitely lost her competitive edge.Hopefully we will still see her race a few more times this year. I also think, to keep face Mr. Jackson will replace Calvin with Shawn. I just hope that everybody stays healthy and look forward to a great breeders cup this year.
Jordan, wake up More than 1 year ago
"Always overrated" couldn't be more accurate about Rachel Alexandra. She has been topping fields of pigs, all the way through. Only one horse she beat in last year's Woodward has ever won again. The males she beat were terrible lots. The only people who voted for Rachel Alexandra as HOY last year are those who continue to have their heads in the sand regarding what racing has become being so vastly inferior to what racing was back when those big name races actually meant something.
njdevilsteve More than 1 year ago
I congratulate you for your honesty, Alan.
Anita More than 1 year ago
Agree, Rachel was overrated last year and it was a media illusion that she would get 10 furlongs. I note that whenever her angry fans insist she was not overrated, they state she won 5 grade 1s but conveniently ignore the weak competition in those races. So I invite Jordan to name one filly who Rachel beat last year that went on to do anything noteworthy? And the only male she beat that went on to do anything noteworthy was Summer Bird. However, she raced against him at a distance that did not suit him. And I recall his trainer challenging Rachel to take on Summer Bird at 10 furlongs but her connections instead chose weaker males in a 9 furlong race.