08/09/2016 3:37PM

Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta: The debate rages on


Chocolate or vanilla? Ford or Chevy? Mantle or Mays? The Beatles or the Stones? These are topics that can be debated for hours, and of course there is no right or wrong answer; it’s mostly just a matter of personal preference. For horse racing fans in recent years, there’s a topic that has joined that list: Who was better, Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta?

Both will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., together Friday, a fitting dénouement for two great racehorses whose careers will seemingly always be linked, collectively winning 32 races, 28 stakes races, 26 graded stakes races, and 18 Grade 1 races.

Rachel vs. Zenyatta was a topic of conversation throughout the entire 2009 season, which saw each of them go undefeated. Rachel went won all eight of her races, five Grade 1 stakes, highlighted by a jaw-dropping 20-length win in the Kentucky Oaks, followed by three wins against males, including the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga. Zenyatta answered by winning all five of her races, all graded stakes, including four Grade 1 stakes culminating in a win over males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

However, the debate reached a fevered pitch after Rachel narrowly beat Zenyatta in the Eclipse Awards voting for 2009 Horse of the Year. Sure, there were attempts to get them to meet on the racetrack, but because they never faced each other, proponents of one over the other have to use other means to state their case.

How you answer the Rachel/Zenyatta question hints at your preferences as a horse racing fan, cutting to the core of your own personal criteria for greatness. Do you value blistering early speed that can be carried over the classic distance or an exciting, furious late kick? Consistent, measured performance carried over a span of three calendar years or eight brilliant races at seven different racetracks in a span of just more than six months?

Ultimately, there is no right answer to the argument. Or rather, there are two right answers. After all, both were great racehorses, equally deserving of being enshrined together as first-ballot Hall of Famers. And both of them would very likely have still entered the Hall of Fame together had they raced exclusively against their own sex, but by beating males, both entered the short list of greatest racemares of all time.

Yeah, but who did they beat?

Let’s take a closer look at the fields of males that each of them beat, and since you do see some horses continue to be entered in graded stakes well past their peak efforts, let’s pay particular attention to how those horses fared after they lost to Rachel and Zenyatta.

In winning the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic and running second in 2010, Zenyatta finished in front of 21 different horses. Four of those (Lookin At Lucky, Summer Bird, Colonel John, and Quality Road) never raced again, but 12 went on to win stakes races after losing to Zenyatta, and 10 of those were graded or group stakes winners. Those runners tallied 25 graded or group stakes wins after their loss to Zenyatta, including seven different horses who combined for 12 Grade or Group 1 wins.

Based on what the field did after the race, the victory in the 2009 Classic was made that much more impressive. Two of the eleven – Summer Bird and Colonel John – never raced again, but six went on to achieve Grade or Group 1 success, including runner-up Gio Ponti, who proceeded to capture three Grade 1 stakes on turf, and third-place finisher Twice Over who later earned three Group 1 victories in the United Kingdom.

Rachel Alexandra beat 24 different horses (and Papa Clem twice) in winning the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward stakes in 2009. Only Pioneerof the Nile did not race again, so the fields she beat included 11 horses that would later win stakes races and seven that would win graded stakes. They notched 14 graded stakes wins after their loss to Rachel, including four different horses who would later win six Grade 1 stakes combined. While her victories in the Preakness and Woodward may get more attention, the Haskell field may have been the toughest she faced. Runner-up Summer Bird later won both the Grade 1 Travers Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (before running fourth to Zenyatta in the 2009 BC Classic), third-place finisher Munnings later won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Sprint Challenge and placed in three Grade 1 stakes, Papa Clem shook off his two losses to Rachel and won the Grade 2 San Fernando, and Duke of Mischief won four more graded stakes, including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

For as great a performance as Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward Stakes was, that field may have been the weakest one of the bunch, at least in terms of how the horses performed after losing to Rachel. All seven of the horses raced at least one race after the Woodward; six went winless. Runner-up Macho Again was out of the money in all four of his subsequent races; Macho Again went 6-0-1-0, with his lone in-the-money finish coming in an off-the-turf listed stakes race at Delaware Park; Asiatic Boy, It’s a Bird, Past the Point, and Da’ Tara went winless in 11 starts combined. Cool Coal Man was the only one who would see winner’s circle again, winning twice in nine starts, once in a listed stakes race at Monmouth Park and in an optional claimer at Gulfstream.

Rachel vs. Zenyatta, by the numbers

At a glance look at how the males beaten by Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta fared after.

Rachel Alexandra




Horses beaten



Horses to race again



Win a race



Win a stakes race



Win a Graded or Group stakes



Win a Grade or Group 1


Lifetime Past Performances

What the PPs would look like for a fictional race in April 2011 at Oaklawn Park (a track where both were 2 for 2) at 1 1/8 miles (a distance where both were undefeated in six starts). Click the images to view in a new window.

Regardless of how you answer the question, all racing fans can agree: Both are extremely deserving and welcome additions to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.