03/14/2010 6:57PM

Z-Day

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Arnold Zetcher said he couldn't hear the silence because the giddy bunch surrounding him at the Fair Grounds was making too much noise.

"It was kind of a strange feeling," Zetcher said. "I guess we did disappoint a lot of the fans who came to see Rachel Alexandra win. But wasn't our mare terrific?"

Yes, she was, Mr. Z. But don't look for Zardana to get the credit she deserves for being at the right track in the right place on Saturday to smack down the reigning Horse of the Year in the New Orleans Ladies. After all, the race was created to attract Rachel Alexandra, which means the Fair Grounds management did its job. And, as a proactive owner, Zetcher did his, pointing out to trainer John Shirreffs that he'd rather roll the dice on the road rather than stay home in California the same day and run against Zenyatta in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita.

The last time a house fell so deadly silent after a shocker like Saturday's in New Orleans was in August of 1996, when a sardined crowd of 44,181 at Del Mar stared in gap-jawed disbelief at the sight of Dare and Go racing past the "unbeatable" Cigar in the million-dollar Pacific Classic. Things were also pretty glum around Belmont Park that day in June of 2004 when Smarty Jones lost the Triple Crown to Birdstone before a packed house. And then there was the 2005 Kentucky Derby, also orchestrated by John Shirreffs, when Giacomo's 50-1 winning lunge at the wire had most of the 100,000 or so scrambling to check their programs.

At the very least, it is refreshing to be able to use the old "that's part of horse racing" cliche to describe a surprising result with no casualties--other than bruised egos and bankrolls--rather than some awful racetrack accident. Truly, anything can happen in a horse race, and it is always a mistake to operate under different assumptions. Zardana's theatrics did not rise to the level of Upset beating Man o' War, or Jim Dandy shocking Gallant Fox. But they did set the table for a fascinating season to follow, especially now that owner Jess Jackson has decided he will not run his filly against Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 9.

ZBC 2 copy The events of last Saturday at Santa Anita and the Fair Grounds were never going to be conclusive. Those still skeptical of Zenyatta's quality will admire the way she overcome a bit of tricky traffic, but they will point out that she is still doing business in Southern California on synthetic tracks, which for some reason has clouded the ability to assess the broader meaning of her 15-0 record. At the same time, those who were entertained but not wildly impressed by Rachel Alexandra's record last year against 3-year-olds and second tier older runners are not justified in thinking any less of the filly after her loss to Zardana. If she was, in fact, dead short for the race, only her next race will tell the true tale. And never forget, no matter how good they are, no matter what they've done, no matter what accolades they've won--Man o' War, Citation, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Cigar--sooner or later they all get beat.

Well, almost all of them.