Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Woman's (and a Mare's) Prerogative

It's common knowledge that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind, and to do so early and often. Apparently the adage applies to equine women (read as mares) as well, since all the news online is that "the big mare" will race again 2010. Zenyatta to race in 2010 --Throughbred Times piece.

This could be wonderful news to all of us who have wished for a race featuring undefeated Zenyatta and her gutsy "little sister" Rachel Alexandra. I say could because I'm part Irish and I'm pretty superstitious, so I don't want to make any pronouncements or express any sentiments that could jinx the possibility of the two horses being in a race together. Whether it's a match race or a larger field, the announcement that Zenyatta plans to continue her racing career for another season means a world of fun (and wild) speculation for horse aficionados.

Oh the wonderful possibilities!

On a similar note, with the Eclipse Awards being announced on Monday, I'm going to take a moment to make a final comment about the Horse of the Year voting. And as you all know, I'm a rider, not a seasoned horse player or trainer or anything, so my impressions and feelings are merely those of someone who just loves spending time riding and in the presence of horses.

It's hard to compare apples and oranges, isn't it? It's not any easier with horses, so many race conditions, so many's fascinating and frustrating. I don't know how conflicted most of the Eclipse voters were about who was HotY, but I can say it would have been an easy choice for me. And yes, it's always easier to make these kind of decisions from your davenport where there's nothing at stake, I get that, but here's why Rachel would've had my vote...

Her campaign. A well-managed and properly strategized campaign can make or break any season--ask Martha Coakley. I have to give Rachel's connections credit for what to my mind is a really well planned campaign. She was presented with a number of challenges following her most impressive victory in the Kentucky Oaks. From defeating the broad Preakness field to her prominence in the slop of the Haskell, and ending with her gutsy victory in The Woodward, she continually rose to the challenges placed before her, and she improved with each win.

Her travels. It's easy to win at home...and let's face it, really talented athletes are also usually lucky. My beloved Minnesota Twins always had "Dome Field Advantage" when they played in the Metrodome. In their two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 I don't think they lost a single game at the Dome. I digress, but you know where I am headed with this. Zenyatta has done all of her running in California and on synthetics. Rachel has excelled (even dominated, if I may say so) at different tracks and on different surfaces. I don't know enough about the full impact of dirt vs polytrack for this comment to be a judgment about that issue, but I do really appreciate the many ways Rachel has found to win on various surfaces, at different tracks.

Her competition. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I don't know who was really left for Rachel to defeat as a means to prove her greatness. She destroyed the 3 yr old fillies and most of the best of the 3 yr old colts, too. She beat older horses, among them males, on more than one occasion and did so showing great spirit. Zenyatta didn't race against the boys until the Breeders Cup Classic, which she also won stylishly...but it's one race.

The intangibles. In the interest of full disclosure, I've seen Rachel run twice--once in the Mother Goose at Belmont and then her incredible victory in the Woodward at Saratoga. So yes, I'm biased. I'd perhaps feel differently if I'd seen the "Big Z" in person, as I've no doubt she's a wonder to see up close with her pawing and dancing. And should Rachel have been at the Breeders Cup? The Jacksons didn't think so and they know her pretty well, so I'll defer to them. These two horses are both fire-in-the-blood exciting to watch, certainly, but Rachel gets my vote.

I've read various pieces handicapping Rachel vs Zenyatta in the HotY race on blogs and in the horse papers like Thoroughbred Times and Bloodhorse, and it's a toss up, it seems. My guess is that Zenyatta will be rewarded with the title as she's undefeated, an impressive feat in any year. And who knows, maybe it's like the Oscars--you know, how you don't win for the performance that you really should and so they award you an Oscar for a lesser, though still high quality performance, to right the earlier wrong? Perhaps Curlin's back-to-back HotY titles will negatively impact Rachel's stellar campaign. Maybe not...but I'd guess it will for a few voters at least.

Racing needs stars, as both the Mosses and Jacksons have said on various occasions, and I'm pleased that we have two such fine ladies in the constellation.

I'm hopeful that whether it's Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta in that Winner's Circle on Monday night that 2010 will be a great year for horse racing fans. And the winner is...

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