09/05/2009 1:30PM

Zen and Now


On Saturday morning, Rachel Alexandra was at Saratoga, preparing to run for the first time against something other than 3-year-olds.

On Saturday morning, Mine That Bird was at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, getting ready to parade for his hometown fans Monday afternoon.

And what about the other one? The Greta Garbo of American racing? The best horse nobody ever gets to see?

 On Friday morning, after a light exercise and a bath, Zenyatta quietly left Del Mar, then a couple hours later settled into her Hollywood Park stall. IMG_1975 She had a routine Saturday morning, with just a little tour of the training track out back behind her barn, while John Shirreffs continued to plot a course that will take her through the rest of the year, and to the end of her extraordinary career. As Zenyatta said farewell to her Del Mar digs, I asked Shirreffs if anything Rachel Alexandra did in the Woodward Stakes Saturday afternoon would have any impact on what Zenyatta would do next.

"No," he replied. Shirreffs went on to confirm that Zenyatta's next target would be the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 10. "The alternative would be the Beldame," Shirreffs offered. Based on what? he was asked."On the racetrack."

And so we're back to that. The synthetic surface at Santa Anita is the ProRide variation, which uses polymers to coat the sand and fibers instead of Polytrack wax. But the sins of the Del Mar surface this summer--especially during training hours--are visited upon the entire circuit, even though each surface is different in composition and care. To prepare for the Oak Tree/Breeders' Cup meet, Santa Anita's surface has undergone a renovation/restoration/rejuvenation--whatever the current term--and usually a synth performs beautifully in the immediate aftermath, so there should be no excuse on that score.

Anyway, holding the Beldame for Zenyatta as an alternative will be a neat trick, since the Belmont Park race will be run one week before the Lady's Secret. Also, the Oak Tree meet opens Sept. 30, which means Shirreffs will be able to watch only one day of racing there before entries are taken for the Beldame. There will be plenty of training, though, so perhaps that will be enough for him to evaluate the surface, which should approximate the ground over which Zenyatta won the Lady's Secret and Ladies Classic last year.

Not that it matters to Shirreffs, or owners Ann and Jerry Moss, but running in the Beldame would silence any lingering criticism of Zenyatta's West Coast heavy career (11 of her 12 wins) once and for all. It would also be a gesture of great historical significance, since a 13th win would equal the mark of Personal Ensign in a race won by Personal Ensign herself. There is also the dangle of an extra $400,000 in the $600,000 pot if a certain 3-year-old filly shows up, but money doesn't buy these folks. Asked if running in the Beldame would depend on the participation of Rachel Alexandra, Shirreffs issued another eloquent "No," and the message was clear: the Queen waits on no one.


What good's a blog unless I can slip in a personal note from time to time? Here's to Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, which marks the 70th birthday of the great American songwriter and performer, John Stewart, long ago of the Kingston Trio and for most of his life a solo maverick who led a worldwide assembly of loyal fans. He called them Darwin's Army.

Johnny Del Mar

John died in January of 2008, which means those of us lucky enough to call him friend have had a bad year and a half. But his songs linger alongside the memories, many of them spun at racetracks here and there. Stewart was the son of a Kentucky-born standardbred trainer. John himself hit the ground in San Diego, and as a kid he shoveled more than his share of muck when the jugheads took over the stables of the Pomona fairgrounds.

He never got that out of his skin, which is why he ended up writing songs about Secretariat and Seabiscuit and Golden Gate Fields, and a champion driving horse named Sweetheart on Parade. He wrote a song for my wife he called Slider with a line about "ridin' with wise guys," and a lullaby for my little girl, which stacks right up there alongside Stewart's July, You're a Woman, Daydream Believer, Never Goin' Back and Runaway Train. But then, I'm prejudiced.

He'd be sitting around today and grab his guitar--maybe the banjo--right around post time for the Woodward and whip out a song about a drop-dead gorgeous girl named Rachel Angelina, who broke the hearts of sailors and carried the world on her wings. I'll miss that song. Happy birthday, Johnny Del Mar.

armando More than 1 year ago
Mr Jackson will miss the fun and glory. Run Jess run.......
Swift lizard More than 1 year ago
Great picture of John Stewart at Del Mar. He was a great songwriter and musician. I know he had a great apprieciation of the racing game and wrote some fantastic racetrack songs. Thanks for the tribute I really miss him.
JT More than 1 year ago
Now about Zenyatta. Oh how great it would be if the racing gods could manage a showdown...but I continue to think about Go For Wand and Bayakoa and I just hope they keep it as it is...both are queens in their own right.....both are champions and both have connections that realized the good of the sport and their horses and let them race their races their own way, and in their own space. The queen of the east won't race again this year; the queen of the west races at least one more time......enjoy the beauty, the talent and the "what-if" and remember the thrills each gave us mere mortals. They are both queens, it has been a honor to watch them both. I remain in awe.
JT More than 1 year ago
What a lovely remembrance of John. I continue to be reminded of Gretchen Jackson's comment, "Grief is the price we pay to love." The best music in the world.
Mike S More than 1 year ago
I think ZENYATTA is The Queen, and I don't think there's much doubt about it. So I'll call RACHEL ALEXANDRA The Princess.
David More than 1 year ago
Zevida: Did you see Zenyatta’s last race at Del Mar. She finished that race like the race was just beginning; it was at 1/16; her last race was at 1/8. Being at the back of the pack at the short distance, it seemed improbable that she could make up the ground to win, but she did. Alexandra appears more the speedball, Zenyatta the stamina. But neither has ridden at the 1 1/4 distance of the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which Zenyatta’s handlers were considering. I did not see the replay of the Woodward, but it appeared to me that Rachel A. was struggling to finish. Her victory was as much a testament to the quality of the horses she was running against. If the race had been at 11/4, Macho Again would have passed her. No doubt Alexandra is a quality runner; she reminds me of Bayakoa, or the other Argentine mares that relished the off-going. I think Alexandra excels in the mud. A Zenyatta/Alexandra face off would be interesting. It would need to be on a dirt track, according to the Alexandra handlers. If I were going to race East against Alexandra, I would definitely see what the weather forecast was the day of the race, and pick a day when the track is not muddy, as if often the case on the East Coast. (I read yesterday that it is possible that Alexandra may not run at all this year, thereby eliminating any chance of a match up). The Zenyatta/Alexandra comparisons remind me of Easy Goer/Sunday Silence. The East Coast, especially the highly biased DRF writers, spoke about Easy Goer, as the next Secretariat, before the Kentucky Derby. Even after Sunday Silence, from the West Coast, proved to be the superior horse, the partisan comments continued. One of the best articles I read recently was a mea culpa by Dan Illman in the DRF, about the Easy Goer/Sunday Silence rivalry. Sunday Silence had a worthy opponent in Easy Goer. Neither Zenyatta nor Alexandra have had the same opposition. Maybe they are both superior runners in a year with not that strong competition, from either sex. We would get a better idea of each runner’s greatness if they would run against each other.
greg More than 1 year ago
Love the Kingston Trio reference! Thanks. As for Zenyatta, you are right, if she goes east to Belmont, it would silence her critics, and win, lose, or draw she is still a great champion. Now is a good time to nail RA, since the woodward must have taken a lot out of her.
Silver Charm More than 1 year ago
The career has been extraordinary as you said. But "the best horse no one ever gets to see". Are U kidding? She has an entire network of her own. TVG
george quinn More than 1 year ago
Jay, I have much respect for you and your writings. But after yesterday, how can you call Zenyatta the queen? HOW? THINK ABOUT IT! Zenyatta could win the Breeders Cup Classic, end up undefeated and not win horse of the year. Is that all you need to know? Or do you need more. I know your a west coast guy but get off of her. She is not the Queen. Rachel is. George in Tampa
zevida More than 1 year ago
David: Zenyatta the true "long distance" runner. On what do you base that? Rachel Alexandra has run 9 furlongs more times than Zenyatta has and Rachel Alexandra has also run AND won further than 9 furlongs, something Zenyatta is unlikely to ever do. You can say "well Zenyatta looks like she could go further" all you want, but the fact is that Rachel Alexandra has proven it on the track, while Zenyatta's connections seems to much prefer 8.5 furlongs.