06/14/2010 9:43AM

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.