06/13/2010 11:00PM

Zenyatta makes Forego-like move


NEW YORK - So much happened last weekend that maybe it's best to tackle it in mini-topic form:

* St Trinians is a terrific race mare, good enough to have won her first four U.S. starts and to have been favored against 13 males in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in her last start. In Sunday's Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the undefeated Zenyatta spotted St Trinians nine pounds, a weight concession meaningful enough to get even my attention, plus a sizeable advantage in the final furlong. With the final furlong of the Vanity run in 12.03 seconds, St Trinians clearly was not stopping. And yet, somehow, Zenyatta still came and got her.

Her third straight Vanity victory was one of Zenyatta's best-ever performances, right next to her Breeders' Cup Classic win over males last fall. From the standpoint of pure entertainment, it might have even surpassed the Classic. Zenyatta carrying 129 pounds, conceding a chunk of weight that could actually beat a horse, and still closing a seemingly impossible gap of ground late to beat an opponent with real talent as she did Sunday was immediately reminiscent of Forego under 137 pounds making up an impossible amount of ground late to nail Honest Pleasure in the 1976 Marlboro Cup. Zenyatta channeling Forego. That, folks, is praise of the highest order.

* It's always good for the game when a defending Horse of the Year returns to the winner's circle, which Rachel Alexandra did Saturday in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, to notch her first win of 2010. But it's difficult to know exactly what to make of her victory. For sure, this was a better performance than what we saw from Rachel Alexandra in narrow losses in her first two starts this year to horses who couldn't have warmed her up during her championship campaign last year, and it will be a confidence builder for her. It was also encouraging that Rachel Alexandra won in final time fast enough for her to receive a solid Beyer Figure of 108.

Still, taking Rachel Alexandra's victory in the Fleur de Lis as proof that she is back to her 2009 form seems wishful thinking. That was a weak group that opposed Rachel Alexandra. She was supposed to crush that field. And while it is true that Rachel Alexandra raced the nine furlongs in faster time than strong older males did later on the card in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap -- 1:48.78 to 1:49.37 -- the much slower pace in the Foster was the reason for that. The Foster's half and three-quarter fractions were 48.72 seconds and 1:12.63, compared with 47.25 and 1:11.16 in the Fleur de Lis. In fact, the big discrepancy between the Fleur de Lis's legitimate but not extraordinarily fast early pace and the Foster's slow pace makes comparison of the raw final times of the two races virtually impossible.

* Although Quality Road casts a long shadow over the division, we are fortunate this year to have a few other high-quality handicap horses, and three were in action Saturday. Blame and Battle Plan disputed a terrific edition of the Foster, while Rail Trip was again dominant in his second start of the year in the Grade 2 Californian at Hollywood.

As if there was any doubt, Rail Trip confirmed again Saturday that he is by far the best main track older male in California with his easy score in the Californian. What is especially intriguing about Rail Trip is that he is purposefully fresh this year with the intention of having him at peak in the fall, a scary thought considering how well he's doing right now. Full disclosure: I voted for Rail Trip last year for champion older male off his win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which is his next target, because I thought that was the definitive performance by an older male on the main track in 2009. He wasn't even an Eclipse Award finalist, but I still think he was a better choice than Gio Ponti, who never even won on the main track last year.

Blame was a real eye opener in the Foster. After being three- to four-wide all the way around the track, Blame ran down Battle Plan with a late brush that you don't see that often anymore with dirt horses. While we don't know to what extent Battle Plan's soft tissue injury might have compromised his performance in the Foster, what made Blame's effort all the more impressive is the fact that in Battle Plan, Blame beat a legitimately good horse who also had complete control of the pace. Like Zenyatta, Blame, who was scoring for the sixth time from his last seven starts, has a compelling will to win.

* Here's what is troubling about the Breeders' Cup awarding its 2011 event to Churchill Downs for a second straight year. The New York Racing Association was reportedly never even really seriously considered in the process. It should be noted that before there was a Breeders' Cup, the closest Thoroughbred racing came to official fall championship events were races such as the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Beldame, the Champagne, and the Frizette, which were all run in New York. Maybe the NYRA never really had a choice, but it did subjugate its major fall races for the Breeders' Cup when it was born in 1984, which was certainly an important contributing factor toward the Breeders' Cup being a success from the start. With all due respect to Southern California and Kentucky, no other racing circuit made as large a sacrifice for the good of the Breeders' Cup. The Breeders' Cup owes a debt to New York racing that it could never, ever, repay. To an outsider, it seems like the Breeders' Cup has forgotten that.