Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Rachel Alexandra Vs. Zenyatta: Battle for Horse of the Year

Posted by Brian Appleton on November 15, 2009





Rachel Alexandra

          It has now been one week since Zenyatta’s historic Breeders’ Cup Classic victory and the euphoria is still running strong. Aside from being the most impressive Classic win in the 26 year history of the Breeders’ Cup, it was won by a gargantuan undefeated mare on her home track in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. Who doesn’t like it when the girls can beat the boys? When they defy the odds and throw out the rule book. This year has had its fair share on both accounts.

   The emotion and excitement introduced into thoroughbred horse racing this year has two incredible individuals to thank on that count. Three year old Super filly Rachel Alexandra and the undefeated five year old mare Zenyatta. Both considered by many to be possibly the best of all time depending on who you ask. In any other year these amazing two would each win the championship title of Horse of the Year by a tremendous landslide. Unfortunately for one of them, they just happen to be racing in the same year. To solve this problem I’ve come up with a fool-proof plan for Horse of the Year award: since no one seems able to choose between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, make Curlin Horse of the Year again! (:



   As soon as Zenyatta crossed the finish line for the Classic, my mind, just like thousands of others, raced immediately to who would win Horse of the Year. In conquering the prestigious race, Zenyatta completed one of the most amazing careers in history by making the Classic a perfect number fourteen in fourteen lifetime races. She capped off a five-for-five 2009 season which included repeat a win in the Milady Handicap (gr.2) in which she defeated the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner, Life Is Sweet. Next she won the Vanity Handicap (gr.1) while carrying 129 pounds, 13 to 18 pounds more than her opponents, becoming the first horse since 1977 to win while carrying 129 pounds or more. The Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr.1) gave her the third repeat win in a row, and resulted in her closest margin of victory, a nose. In October she scored yet another



repeat in the Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr.1) and tied Personal Ensign’s record of winning 13 races while remaining undefeated. The Breeders’ Cup Classic came next, where she trounced one of the strongest fields in recent years, while at the same time bringing her undefeated record to 14 and making it four consecutive grade 1 wins. She raced only in Southern California at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita/Oak Tree. All her victories this year have come over fast/good surfaces, and all over synthetic tracks.


Rachel Alexandra

   Rachel Alexandra completed one of the most incredible racing campaigns ever in 2009, regardless of age or sex. She competed at the highest level of racing competition and stepped up the game in every single start. She made it into Vogue magazine, sent ratings for the Preakness Stakes through the roof and created legions of fans in a time when horse racing desperately needed an exciting performer. She set two margin of victory records in two of the most prestigious three year old filly races in the country, set a new stakes record in one and defeated males two consecutive time, the last being against older horses. She started the year out by winning the Martha Washington Stakes and Fair Grounds Oaks against her own sex, then romped by more than 8 lengths in the Fantasy Stakes (gr2). Sent to the Kentucky Oaks to try and make history, Rachel Alexandra proved an over-achiever, winning by 20 ¼ lengths while being held back by jockey Calvin Borel the entire length of the stretch and just missing the stakes record. After being purchased by Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick ,Rachel Alexandra was entered in the Preakness Stakes (gr.1) and installed as the favorite. In front of a boisterous, enthusiastic crowd, she held off Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to win by one length, becoming the only horse in history to win the coveted classic from the #13 post, and the first filly in 85 years to win. Next up, the Mother Goose Stakes (gr.1) against two over matched rivals. Crossing the line

Preakness Horse Racing

Rachel Alexandra

19 ¾ lengths clear of the second runner, Rachel Alexandra set a new stakes record and was just off the Belmont track record set by Secretariat in 1973. She then defeated the boys again in the Haskell Invitational (gr.1) by 6 widening lengths, while again just missing the track and stakes records. She defeated Belmont Stakes (gr.1) winner Summer Bird and multiple stakes winner Munnings in the Haskell and was also only the second filly to win in the last 42 years. Next out she defeated older males in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes (gr.1) after setting suicidal


Rachel Alexandra

fractions on the lead and holding off a fast closing Macho Again by a head. She is now the only filly/mare to ever win the prestigious Woodward Stakes. From May to September she won five consecutive grade 1’s. She raced in Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland and New York while running at different tracks almost every time. She ran on sloppy and fast surfaces and finished her astounding year undefeated in 8 races.

   However you look at Horse of the Year debate, a very compelling case can be made for both candidates. They have both accomplished feats that will probably never be equaled in our lifetimes, and will never be forgotten. People will be discussing this year and these amazing athletes long after we are dead and gone. What they have done this year, no male counterpart was able to do in decades of racing history. They have transcended the base meaning of courage, heart and winning, showing fans what real horse racing is. It’s that feeling you can’t describe when you see your horse come charging down the stretch, heart pounding in your chest. It’s when you know you are witnessing history and it’s all on the line. When you don’t care how loud you yell, or what people think when you jump up and down, looking for all the world like an enraged maniac, gaze fiercely fixed to your television screen. The roars from thousands of fans as Rachel Alexandra crushed the Haskell field and Zenyatta devastated a word-class field in the Classic brings shivers to your spine. These are the moments created by only the greatest athletes in history, moments created from pure love of the sport.



   If Zenyatta had won the Breeders’ Cup ladies Classic instead of running in the Classic


Rachel Alexandra

itself, Rachel Alexandra would still be sitting squarely atop the NTRA polls for Horse of the Year. As it is, Zenyatta could now steal away that once undisputed crown that Rachel has worn and seize the prize herself. You can bet Jess Jackson is kicking himself right about now, I don’t think he really believed the Moss’s would enter Zenyatta against the boys in the Classic.

Who should be Horse of the Year and why?

Rachel Alexandra deserves Horse of the Year.


6 Responses to “Rachel Alexandra Vs. Zenyatta: Battle for Horse of the Year”

  1. I took the “Switzerland” defense option here….I’m still so torn! 🙂

    • I’m torn also, but I feel that Rachel’s body of work is just too much, compared to Zenyatta’s 5 race campaign, in which she only faced good competition about three times, Rachel blows her out of the water. But I’m all for co-Horse of the Year, that would be fabulous! Steve Haskin is really pushing that idea over on the Blood Horse.

  2. 52 votes and counting – Not bad at all, my friend! Interesting to see Rachel winning here and on the NY Times, yet Zenyatta getting all the love elsewhere. STill leads me to think their will be defenestrations from one side or the other once the votes are tallied. I think those who mailed in their votes right after the Classic voted Zenyatta – while those waiting until the last possible minute might be more inclined to vote Rachel.

    I keep wondering this…let’s say Zenyatta won the Classic in May, and Rachel’s Preaknesss (or Woodward) was just 2 weeks ago – who would be the “now horse” in the voting, I wonder? : – )

    • I wondered the same thing. Zenyatta’s performance was so “compelling”, we all were wanting her to win. I’ve rarely been so strong in supporting a horse for a race (except Curlin and Rachel!). When it was over, I think everyone was kind of in a daze, on emotional highs, in wonder of her acheivement. When I came home after watchng the race I told my Mom all about it and stated empatically that Zenyatta should win Horse of the Year. She was very surprised becuase I’ve been saying for weeks that it didn’t matter if Zenyatta won or not, I still though Rachel’s body of work deserved the honor. After about three days, I began to think clearly again, and I’m back in Rachel’s corner now.
      I noticed on the BloodHorse Horse of the Year poll which was released the day after Zenyatta’s classic, Rachel was getting barely any attention. She only had about 32%. Now, she’s got closer to 42%.
      It’s all about timing, no matter how you look at it.

  3. PiterJankovich said

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

    • Thanks Piter! I have a huge passion for thoroughbred horse racing, so yes, doing this blog is my hobby. I would love to write/commentate on horse racing as a career.

      Thank you for stopping by, it’s always nice to see new comments.

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