08/07/2009 11:00PM

Big mama's time to rock 'n' roll

Barbara D. Livingston
Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta, says he would like to see a matchup with Rachel Alexandra, but there doesn't seem to be a viable option right now unless Rachel Alexandra's owner changes his mind about the Breeders' Cup

DEL MAR, Calif. - Jerry Moss compared each appearance of Zenyatta to the debut of a new album by The Police, and he should know, since he has owned them both - or at least, in the case of The Police, owned the company that produced their records.

"We actually released only five albums, and after the first one, each time was huge," Moss said. The third of the five was Zenyatta Mondatta.

For their fans, The Police are one of those musical gifts that keeps on giving - their reunion tour last year broke the bank - just as Zenyatta has never failed to please the crowd. The difference, and it is significant in the current climate, is that The Police were never required to validate their work by going one-on-one with the Eurythmics or Duran Duran, although a Sting-Annie Lennox smackdown would have packed the house.

That is what Moss is up against this year. The story line is no longer Zenyatta's flawless career - currently at 11 wins - nor her ability to win without serious bother, nor her breathtaking physical presence. For all her stature, Zenyatta is now being judged in the court of Rachel Alexandra, a 3-year-old filly who was barely weaned when Zenyatta won her first race.

Jack Nicholson, meet Zac Efron.

Unfortunately, Zenyatta has been trading this year primarily on the capital of last season's glory. It is the second week in August, and she has run exactly twice, descending from the mountaintop to win the Milady and the Vanity at Hollywood Park. Both of those races, widely rumored to be fantastic, might as well have taken place at midnight in Bakersfield, for all the attention they received. In terms of bodies at the track, the swap meet at the local drive-in gets more action than a Saturday afternoon at Hollywood. There was no live broadcast outside simulcast and TVG. Zenyatta's races were covered widely on the Internet, but so what? As of Friday morning, there were 55,900 Google hits for "Zenyatta horse" and 2.7 million hits for "Lohan drunk."

Zenyatta's appearance on Sunday at Del Mar in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes will draw her most energetic crowd since she won the Ladies' Classic on Breeders' Cup Friday last October. There is still no broadcast television following the Zenyatta story, nor even ESPN, the network of the Breeders' Cup. But at least they'll be talking about her at Red Tracton's and the Brigantine that night.

The point of Thoroughbred horse racing is to find out which horse is faster, better, stronger, tougher . . . use any of these as a measuring stick. In the end, there is only one way to find out, and that is to race them against each other over a period of time, observe them in a variety of conditions, and wait until the dust settles to decide.

On Sunday, it will be up to Zenyatta and Mike Smith to make the most of the opportunity presented by the Hirsch. Even then, a loud statement would only go so far. By Monday morning, if Zenyatta walks her beat, the clamor will rise afresh for a race against Rachel, even though Moss has already told everyone where Zenyatta will be on either Nov. 6 or 7 and means it.

"As a fan, I was sorry the Breeders' Cup was coming to Santa Anita two consecutive years," Moss said. "I love going to other tracks, other restaurants, meeting other horsemen. Florida, Churchill Downs. I loved Monmouth Park, a beautiful little track, even if it did rain for four days.

"It does seem, though, that the racing press has excused the owner who doesn't want to run in the Breeders' Cup, saying that's his prerogative. And it is. But isn't that the place where champions are supposedly crowned?"

It is laughable to think that men like Jess Jackson and Jerry Moss can be browbeaten by press and public opinion to run their best horses someplace they don't want to run. Jackson says he will not run Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders' Cup this year at Santa Anita. Moss and his trainer, John Shirreffs, see no point in an East Coast invasion when that very same Breeders' Cup is their main target. If anything, fans should be angry at the way the sport has failed to make a meeting between the filly and the mare inevitable.

"For starters, there's been no chance to run against Rachel Alexandra even if we wanted to," Moss said. "We don't qualify to run against 3-year-olds. I still think it could happen somehow. But all I can concentrate on is Sunday. And she's not scaring anybody away."

No, but she should. It remains to be seen how many of the nine entered against Zenyatta end up in the gate. Second is not bad in a Grade 1 event, but Zenyatta's stablemate Life Is Sweet is in there, so third might be all that's left.

Moss takes nothing for granted, which is wise. This is an owner who had his first world-class 2-year-old filly, Delicate Vine, break down before she could run in the 1986 Breeders' Cup. This is an owner who had to watch his 1994 Kentucky Oaks winner, Sardula, suffer through a long illness and finally succumb. Moss is too competitive to duck and dodge just to keep Zenyatta unbeaten, but he will do what he can to keep her as safe and sound as this rough game will allow. There should not be any confusion between the two.

"To have a horse of this nature, this stature, is a dream come true," Moss said. "So I don't care. I'll take it all. Ask me anything. I'll talk to anybody. I just love her. I just hope she's happy and healthy and goes on to be all she's suppose to be. And I do love watching her run."

Good. It's Sunday. Time to give big mama the ball.