11/18/2009 12:00AM

Euro rankings show a blatant bias


NEW YORK - Supporters of Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta can't seem to agree on whether the sun rises in the east or the west, much less which one should be Horse of the Year. They can and should, however, unite in opposition to the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities post-Breeders' Cup ranking of the world's best horses, which denigrate both of them and all of American racing.

The federation's rankings, which were released Thursday, got one thing right: Rachel Alexandra is the world's best dirt horse, Sea the Stars is the best grass horse, and Zenyatta is the best synthetic-surface horse. That's also the only thing they got right.

Sea the Stars was awarded a ranking of 135, five clear of any other horse on the planet, with Goldikova second at 130 and Rip Van Winkle third at 129. Zenyatta manages only a tie for fourth with Fame and Glory at 128, and Rachel Alexandra gets to share a five-way tie for sixth at 125 alongside Cavalryman, Conduit, Gio Ponti, and Youmzain.

These rankings, while advertised and presented as a ranking of horses, are actually based on single performances rather than a season or body of work. Their contention is that Sea the Stars's victory in the Irish Champion Stakes is worth a 135, while Zenyatta's Classic gets only a 128 and Rachel's Haskell gets a 125. It doesn't really matter whether it's horses or races they're talking about: The preposterous assumption either way is that Sea the Stars in particular and grass horses in general are vastly superior to anything American racing, Rachel Alexandra, or Zenyatta are capable of offering.

Did anyone at the federation actually watch the Breeders' Cup? Horses who, in the eyes of the Europeans, were supposed to win laughing because they had been finishing close behind Sea the Stars failed to assert this presumed superiority time and time again. Mastercraftsman, Rip Van Winkle, and Delegator, each of whom finished second to Sea the Stars by just 1 or 1 1/2 lengths earlier this year, all were badly beaten in three different races. Yet Rip Van Winkle is rated better than Zenyatta and Youmzain is as good as Rachel Alexandra?

Fame and Glory, rated the co-fourth best in the world at 128, won 3 of 7 starts this year and was 1 for 4 at the Group 1 level. Two of those defeats, however, were seconds to the almighty Sea the Stars, so he's supposed to be as good as Zenyatta.

The attempt to justify the supposed transcendence of the Europeans is just as comical as you go down the list. Guess who the federation's second highest-ranked American 3-year-old is, just one point below Summer Bird? Courageous Cat, rated better than Mine That Bird or Quality Road because of his second to Goldikova in the Mile.

This is nothing more than sanctioned bias against American horses and dirt racing, with no foundation in form or fairness. Granted, it has always been a difficult task to compare the world's best grass and dirt horses, and the unnecessary introduction of a third type of racing, over synthetic surfaces, has only clouded things further. The responsible thing to do, however, would have been to rank Sea the Stars, Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra equally as the undisputed leaders of their surface-specific divisions, rather than pretending that Sea the Stars is somehow 7 to 10 points better than the two queens of American racing.

Speaking of equal rankings, dozens of turf writers and bloggers are clamoring for a mechanism that would allow Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to be named co-winners of the American Horse of the Year award. Under the current rules, this could only happen if there is a precise tie among the 300 or so votes cast. The question is whether an option to crown co-champions should be added to the Eclipse ballot.

The proposal has met with opposition from the most fervent supporters of both candidates, who truly believe that their favorite is a clearly deserving no-brainer and that the selection of the other would be the greatest injustice in the history of organized sport. The question, however, is not whether a close call should be considered a draw but whether the circumstances of this racing season are so extraordinary to warrant the dual-winner option.

It's at least worth consideration. Regardless of your preference, there is no denying that both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta accomplished entirely different but genuinely unprecedented things that will land them both in the Hall of Fame and stamp them as among the greatest fillies and mares of all time. Neither deserves to lose the title, and there is no rule that one of them has to: One of the virtues of the Eclipse system is that it has no ancient rules and bylaws, and the voters can pretty much do what they want.

If it turns out in the weeks ahead that a majority of the voters favor a joint award, why deprive them of that choice?