06/29/2009 12:00AM

Filly adds to father-son bond


NEW YORK - When I was my son's age, I had already been a Thoroughbred racing junkie for four years, a happy addiction that has stayed with me. My soon-to-be 17-year-old son, meanwhile, is consumed with building things for science and technology competitions, a field that is closely observed and sponsored by many heady organizations, including NASA. Seriously. But I still have hope for him, hope that was renewed Saturday quite unexpectedly because it came only a little more than an hour after the disappointment of his baseball team coming up short in its championship game.

As I watched the field for the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park enter the gate - which didn't take very long since there were only three horses - my son ran in and said, "I gotta see this filly." He was, of course, talking about Rachel Alexandra. A little more than a minute and 46 seconds later, my son, who has been to Saratoga and Del Mar, Monmouth Park and Suffolk Downs, and several other tracks in between, exclaimed, "Wow! She went from being even to 20 lengths in front in a quarter of a mile." And with a shake of the head that said he knew that what he had just seen was as ridiculous as it was rare, he added, "That's some horse."

Yes she is.

With diversions for him such as girls and golf, and with college looming, son-father moments like this one don't happen as often as they used to. So I'm grateful, and I think I have the New York Racing Association to thank for it. The NYRA's media blitz heralding Rachel Alexandra's first New York appearance in the Mother Goose was unlike anything I've seen from NYRA in the 26-plus years I've lived in New York. The NYRA has plenty of experience trumpeting big events. For example, the way the NYRA has grown the Belmont Stakes over the last 10 to 12 years is amazing, considering what non-Triple Crown Belmont Days were like before that. But I can't recall the NYRA promoting a specific horse the way it promoted Rachel Alexandra.

None of the NYRA's media efforts would have meant a thing if Rachel Alexandra wasn't the sort who truly captures the imagination with a brilliance that seems to know no bounds. That is a bold statement to make for a filly who on Saturday sat a perfect trip behind an insane speed duel between two thoroughly outclassed opponents. But how do you beat Rachel Alexandra now? She's good enough to have become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness, and did it after disputing a strong pace. And now, when you throw even faster fractions at her, as was the case in the Mother Goose, she dominates by sitting off the early pace, which makes her all the more dangerous. The track at Belmont on Saturday was fast, but Rachel Alexandra went nine furlongs in the Mother Goose in 1:46.33 without even being asked. She went from being even at the top of the stretch to being officially 19 1/4 lengths in front at the wire without even being asked.

That's awesome stuff. And you know what else is awesome? My son wants to know when Rachel Alexandra runs next.

Maybe, if we are very, very lucky, Rachel Alexandra will have a start against Zenyatta. What a matchup that would be - Rachel Alexandra, the best 3-year-old filly since Go for Wand, if not Ruffian herself, versus Zenyatta, the undefeated champion whose thoroughly expected but still completely satisfying victory in Saturday's Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park only deepens my conviction that she's the best mare since Personal Ensign.

Zenyatta's score in the Vanity was satisfying beyond the fact that she had to carry a steadying 129 pounds and concede a minimum of 13 pounds and 15 pounds to the runner-up. Zenyatta's Vanity was satisfying because it came mere hours after her owner, Jerry Moss, demonstrated in a radio interview what a class act he is. Moss said Saturday that he would like for Zenyatta to face Rachel Alexandra, which is all well and good. But he showed there was real substance behind that desire when he said Zenyatta might well leave California to race, which, in view of the fact that the Breeders' Cup is in California again this year, is a departure from previous plans for Zenyatta to remain at her SoCal base.

Moss gets it. He knows that everyone wants to see a Zenyatta-Rachel Alexandra matchup, and he could be the hero for taking the huge step to make it happen. Moss seems to know, given the current order of things, that if he is to make Zenyatta Horse of the Year, he's got to go after Rachel Alexandra, whose victory over males in the middle leg of the Triple Crown puts Zenyatta in the role of pursuer in this regard. And he might also know that he's got an ace up his sleeve, because Zenyatta's best race arguably was her only start on dirt in last year's Apple Blossom.

But saying you want to do something and actually doing it are two very different things. So let's cross our fingers and hope this is more than just talk.