05/31/2009 11:00PM

Key difference between pair of star females


NEW YORK - Four quick thoughts on current events:

* One of the great things about the Zenyatta versus Rachel Alexandra debate is that you are right no matter who you favor. Unless the owners of one cave in and amend their schedule so that the two can actually meet on the track, no one can really prove which one is better.

That said, even if you think Zenyatta is 10 lengths better than Rachel Alexandra, you had better be ready to concede that Zenyatta is already playing catch-up when it comes to potential Horse of the Year honors.

If Zenyatta sticks to the plan and duplicates the campaign she had last year, not even a win in the Vanity, combined with another in the Clement Hirsch, and another in the Lady's Secret, and yet another in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic will carry the weight of Rachel Alexandra's Preakness win.

Even if Rachel Alexandra stays away from the "plastic" synthetic surfaces in Southern California, as her owner, Jess Jackson, refers to them, and even if she undertakes a conservative campaign of her own - although with Jackson calling the shots, she's liable to try something else daring - and won the Mother Goose, the Alabama, and, say, the Beldame, she'll still be the superior candidate for Horse of the Year, if it should come down to these two. Rachel Alexandra would be able to boast a crucial win over males that Zenyatta wouldn't have, a Triple Crown win, to boot.

All of this speaks to the belief that the ultra-conservative schedule mapped out for Zenyatta isn't doing her any favors. Yes, it's presumptuous for a wag to tell people where to run their horse. But it's not presumptuous to suggest that if Zenyatta doesn't step outside the box - as all the great racemares have done - it could compromise not only her potential Horse of the Year candidacy, but also her place in racing history.

* You would think that the defection of a solid favorite like Rachel Alexandra from the Belmont might encourage at least a handful of new shooters to try their luck. But you would think wrong. In the days immediately following Friday's announcement that Rachel Alexandra would not be participating, not a single new candidate for the Belmont surfaced.

Sure, Rachel Alexandra's absence doesn't mean that winning this Belmont will be easy. But million-dollar races for 3-year-olds like the Belmont are not exactly commonplace. So the fact that no one new jumped into the fray suggests two things:

To some degree, it exposes the lack of depth in the 3-year-old division. The other and perhaps more important issue is how horsemen seem to view the Belmont Stakes. It suggests that when you're going for a Triple Crown sweep, or stand to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown, or have won the Belmont before, the Belmont is a great event to participate in. But if none of those things is in play, then not even a seven-figure purse is incentive enough to get some to compete. That's not a knock on the Belmont. It's just an observation.

* If Mine That Bird wins on Saturday, I hope that people don't label Rachel Alexandra and her connections carpetbaggers for jumping into the Preakness and then jumping out of the Triple Crown again, denying Mine That Bird a Triple Crown sweep.

At the time of the short-lived attempt to block Rachel Alexandra's entry into the Preakness with Triple Crown-nominated stiffs, there was a sub-discussion over whether it was fair for a new horse, no matter who, to jump into the Preakness and face horses who might have been softened up by competing in the Kentucky Derby just two weeks earlier. There was also talk about whether entry to the last two legs of the Triple Crown should be restricted to the group that competed in the Derby.

Thank goodness a notion like that will never gain real traction, because it's an awful idea, unless, that is, you would like to see three-horse Belmont Stakes fields every three years or so.

The Triple Crown has always been about inclusion rather than exclusion. There is no other reason for the Kentucky Derby field to be as big as 20 or the Belmont field to be as big as 16. The Triple Crown is about taking on all comers. It's supposed to be hard to sweep. And that's why changes that would help make the Triple Crown less difficult to sweep would only cheapen it.

* Perhaps the only good thing about Rachel Alexandra not running in the Belmont is it spares us from having to hear that when Rags to Riches in 2007 became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont, she beat Curlin in a photo.

Without taking anything away from Rags to Riches, the Curlin who Rags to Riches beat in the Belmont was a good colt. But he did not become the two-time Horse of the Year-caliber Curlin until four months after the Belmont, when he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup off a layoff over the then-white-hot Lawyer Ron.