06/14/2010 10:43AM

Way Beyond Compare


Last Friday night at Dodger Stadium, Ozzy Osbourne led a ballpark full of unsuspecting fans in a one-minute scream to raise money for the Think Cure! Weekend for cancer research. They called it "Scream for a Cure," which of course had nothing to do with Osbourne's upcoming album, "Scream," but the fans did get themselves into the Guinness Book of World Records for "loudest and longest scream" while raising $50,000 in the process. I know what you're thinking: "They let Ozzy Osbourne do another album?"

The scream let loose from a densely packed 12,000 or so folks at Hollywood Park Sunday afternoon could have been a contender. It didn't last as long, but it was aimed in a single direction, and when it hit its peak it was one of those paint-peeling screams that shakes the building and leaves the ears ringing for a long, long time. More Black Sabbath than Dodger Blue.

Z crowd John Shirreffs stood on the guinea stand next to the grandstand crowd, smack in the maw of the sound, wearing a painfully dated cap ("Zenyatta 14-14") and holding his breath for the few eternal seconds it took Zenyatta to take St. Trinians seriously enough to flop those big ears back for a few strides and reel her in to win the Vanity Handicap, her 17th without defeat. It was her third Vanity, which is great, but does not mean as much as the fact that a Grade 1 horse -- any Grade 1 horse -- is around long enough to run in a race like the Vanity three times.

The scream at Hollywood Park, echoing the cheers at Churchill Downs the day before for Rachel Alexandra's romp in the Fleur de Lis, effectively quieted all that moaning and groaning about a sub-standard 2010 Triple Crown series. Both races were handicaps, love 'em or not, and Rachel did her work under 124 pounds and won by 10 1/2, while Zenyatta packed 129 and won by half a length, which sort of tells you which racing secretary did his job. Who they beat and how they did it will supply red meat for a week's worth of comments. Let's just say there were no surprises and considerable relief, since there was every bit as much pressure surrounding Rachel Alexandra's 0-for-2 record this year as there was on Zenyatta's 16-and-0 lifetime.

Of course, a showdown between the two would be great, and every racetrack with either a marketing budget or a sliver of imagination should be scrambling for a way to make it happen. If that day comes, we'll all be there. Promise.

Until then, it is fun to wonder. The Rachel Alexandra camp likes to keep the troops guessing as to her appearances right up to the brink. This mitigates against buying cheap airfares, but as long as she continues to run in the big houses on big days, which is her style, she usually ends up where she belongs.

As for Zenyatta, there remains an intense longing to see her race far and wide. Even the Mona Lisa toured the world. A couple days before the Vanity, owner Jerry Moss was asked about statements made earlier this year that seemed to leave little doubt Zenyatta would be pointed toward more engagements outside California. But now, the realities of campaigning a huge, 6-year-old beast who has been in fairly steady training nearly three solid years appears to be coming into play. Last week, Shirreffs was quoted by Steve Andersen in Daily Racing Form suggesting that the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar was on Zenyatta's dance card after the Vanity. In that event, Zenyatta likely would have room for just one more race before heading to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Classic in November.

"I'm not going to go chasing Horse of the Year," Shirreffs told me. "Just being Zenyatta should be enough."

You would think. Moss, clearly the more adventurous of the two, was floored by the rock star reception Zenyatta received at Oaklawn Park, were she won the Apple Blossom in April, as well as enlightened by its physical effects on his mare.

"I didn't realize how much trips take out of the horse," Moss said. "And it's not just preparing for the race. It's the crowd, and the people that gather around her all the time. We saw that at Oaklawn Park, and we really hadn't thought about it before. You can put up a screen, like John does. But she's still aware there's something going on. There a lot of energy generated. As far as racing elsewhere, we did think about trying to do other things, and we still might. There's options. I wouldn't pay too much attention to Del Mar being a solid item. There's no commitments there."

The Zenyatta team always ends up very much on the same page, and the big mare always comes through to tie things up with a bright ribbon. Anyone who thinks Zenyatta beat a bunch of patsies on Sunday needed to put a clock on St. Trinians -- who handled Life Is Sweet earlier in the year -- through that final quarter mile. Her front legs going all directions, the British mare gave as much as you can give to a race and still be upright at the end. Standing there afterwards, being unsaddled in the backwash of the Zenyatta din, she was spent, dizzy and noble. I hope she knew some of that noise was for her.

Sig Ulland More than 1 year ago
I've been concerned about Frank Stronach's influence on American racing for about ten years. It's my belief that he should be bought out and sent back to Germany. Has he actually improved anything at the tracks his companies have purchased??? Now he's messing up our beloved Santa Anita!!! TAKE A HIKE, STRONACH !!!
ThoroGreats More than 1 year ago
People wonder why dirt horses were something like 0 for 43 in the last 2 Breeders' Cups run over synthetic. Pretty telling stat there.
Gary Lynn More than 1 year ago
C...Without question, those "many" trainers are welcome to their opinion. Then again, maybe it's just the grueling trip.
C More than 1 year ago
Gary, I'm not so sure about that. Guys like Zayat, Jackson, Zito, Dutrow, and Asmussen race all over the country, yet all clearly prefer to stay on dirt. I would also add Baffert as someone who doesn't think that surface is a non-factor. Since California converted, he has been very careful to divide his stable based on surface preference. So, as to your original point, that is one person's opinion. The ones I've mentioned here would certainly make much more of a distinction between dirt and non-dirt.
C More than 1 year ago
Gary Lynn, That's one person's opinion. There are, without question, many trainers who would disagree and, in fact, prefer not to ship West for precisely that reason.
Bourbon County Gal More than 1 year ago
Is it possible that Zenyatta did not handle the ship to CD very well back in May of '09? The Derby Week insanity may have left her a bit dazed and stressed, and then the muddy track sealed the deal on her scratch. It will be every bit as crazy for the BC, plus it might be COLD, plus it might be raining, plus they might be running the BC Classic under the lights in front of 80,000 screaming fans. If Zenyatta does not handle travel, change, and unusual situations very well, it might be a rough time for her. I sure hope everything goes perfectly for everybody and we get the race we've been wanting.
Gary Lynn More than 1 year ago
I spoke to a horse owner/trainer yesterday that told me anyone who thinks the synhtetic/dirt holds that much weight, really doesn't know anything about the sport. All, y'all will get your face full of dirt come November.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
Rachel shipped to 6 tracks in 7 states, won 8 races, yet in just 5 races, Zenyatta won more money. And Rachel took half a year to recover. With a $5 million race in November, doesn't it make sense to have your horse peak then rather than in September, like Rachel did in '09? And Rachel's connections are doing just that this year, they're copying Zen's game plan. Folks, pray, cross your fingers, save money, Churchill Downs BC Classic may be one for the ages.
Bill Price More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay, I'm not sure where you are based but the Eastern racing media establishment keeps pushing to have Zenyatta tour the East trying to make something negative out of Zenyatta's success. Well, being a Western and California located person with a clearly big Eastern and Southern history, I clearly disagree with you all! Zenyatta did not duck into a Breeders Cup filly race last fall. She took on the Classic and an all male field and clearly and brilliantly beat them. Where was Rachel then? If Rachel is so great, let her come West to beat Zenyatta who went East just to find Rachel duck her at Oaklawn and cancel the rest of the three race series?! As the Moss family and connections announced, Zenyatta is aiming at the Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill. Let Rachel Alexandra and all the best males aim at Zenyatta there and let's see a race there against all comers. Zenyatta is not ducking the best on the Eastern circuit's oldest and greatest Derby and race tracks! She is coming there to show once and for all to see how great she can race against all the best for $5,000,000, male and female. How many times does Zenyatta have to travel across the country to satisfy the belly bellyachers back East? What's wrong with Eastern horses coming West to challenge Zenyatta in her backyard if they are so good? Same -- same difference -- no body wants to come West, it's always been that way -- the West has to go East!? To maximize Zenyatta's chances of winning the Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs this year giving her two Classics in a row -- one West, one East, it clearly makes sense that she stays here in the West where she is most comfortable and to make one trip East to Churchill Downs next fall and take on the world, whoever, etc., wants to show their stuff and try to beat her there!!! Get off our Western back! You would do the same thing if you had Zenyatta in the East! You would not come West, that's for sure!!
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
Bill Price, To answer you succintly, it's not East vs. West. It's plastic vs. DIRT.......