Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Highs and Lows: Racing’s Big Weekend

Posted by Brian Appleton on March 15, 2010

Zardana Upsets Rachel Alexandra

For any other horse, passing the finish line only ¾ of a length behind the winner after a sustained stretch duel and finishing more than 11 lengths ahead of the 3rd place finisher in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes would warrant rave comments about the talent and potential of the contestant. Unfortunately for Rachel Alexandra, she isn’t any other horse and to millions of racing fans across the nation nothing short of perfection is expected. In her 2010 four-year-old debut dual-champion filly Rachel Alexandra threw her heart on the line and regrettably she came up short in the end. Days prior to the New Orleans Ladies trainer Steve Asmussen made a point of saying that Rachel was not yet 100% fit for her return to the races and it turns out he was right.

After breaking cleanly from the gate, jockey Calvin Borel kept Rachel Alexandra running in second place, right off pacesetting Fighter Wing. Down the backstretch it was clear to see that Borel had his hands full trying to get Rachel to settle down and relax. Approaching the far turn Borel let her loose and she eagerly took the lead. Meanwhile jockey David Flores roused John Shirreffs trained Zardana who responded by shooting up into contention at the top of the stretch. Drawing even with Rachel Alexandra coming off the turn, the two fillies fought tooth and nail the length of the stretch. On the inside Rachel Alexandra slowly began to lose ground, appearing tired and quite unlike her old self. At the wire it was Zardana in front by ¾ of a length. It was certainly not the race Rachel’s connections were hoping for and as most everyone expected majority owner Jess Jackson made the dreaded announcement on March 14th. Rachel Alexandra will not be taking on Zenyatta in the April 9th Apple Blossom Handicap. “She will tell us when her next race will be.” Jackson said in his statement.

One good thing that most likely came from her New Orleans Ladies performance, in fighting for all she was worth Rachel Alexandra has probably gained a much needed tightening for her next race. With so much effort put out this time she should be a great deal sharper next out. Up to this time the reigning Horse of the Year has presented an image made of titanium-enforced-steel, unmovable, unshakable and unbeatable. Now she has to show she can bounce right back from the defeat and progress to bigger and better things. It’s anybody’s guess when the super-star filly will return the races next.

Zenyatta remains undefeated with win #15

Amazing is a word used much too lightly in horse racing but in some cases we can unquestionably say it fits the case perfectly. Zenyatta is amazing. In one of the most impressive, intelligent and athletic displays in decades of racing history Zenyatta subdued a field of 8 other competitors and practically laughed at the history books. The fans turned out in droves at Santa Anita Park Saturday to see one thing; perfection, otherwise known as Zenyatta. Emerging from the paddock Zenyatta elicited cheers of wild enthusiasm from her fans and roars of praise as she danced her way onto the track.

Breaking from the gate slowest of all Zenyatta took her customary position at the rear of field. Entering the final turn the big mare held the same position before turning up the heat. With giant bounding strides she swept into the stretch to find herself stuck behind a wall of horses, all paths seemingly closed. Watching the race over and over I still couldn’t believe what I saw next. Without the slightest hint of hesitation Zenyatta began to swing her head from side to side looking for an opening. By now the field was well on their way to the wire and it appeared the perfect mare might be heading for the first defeat of her career, but jockey Mike Smith hung on for the ride as with lightning fast reflexes Zenyatta darted to the inside rail the instant an opening presented itself. Surging through the gap the super-star was once again blocked from a straight run by the form of front-running Dance to My Tune, in the blink of an eye Zenyatta took back to the outside, ears pricked and seized the lead in a matter of seconds. Crossing the wire 1 ¼ lengths the best Zenyatta cantered into the backstretch to cheers of ecstasy. What makes her win all the more impressive is that jockey Mike Smith never went to the whip, instead mildly urging her along with the reins. After it was all over, not a drop of sweat on her perfectly dappled coat, Zenyatta returned to the winners circle to a hero’s welcome. This race sets her up perfectly for the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 9th, a race which now will be her stepping stone immortality and 16 straight races without the entry of Rachel Alexandra. The incredible 6-year-old mare is now 15-for-15 in her perfect career and only one race away from tying the great Citation’s streak of 16 consecutive races.

Lookin At Lucky wins the Rebel Stakes

It seems this weekend just wouldn’t quit when it came to producing statistically defying performances. But for the loss of Rachel Alexandra this would have been one of the greatest weekends I have ever witnessed in racing. 2009 Champion Two Year Male Lookin At Lucky returned to the races for his 2010 3-year-old debut in a performance that showcased the kind of talent and heart that only comes around once in a lifetime. The Rebel Stakes presented one of the most talent-packed Kentucky Derby preps so far this year. Three Grade 1 winners entered the race as the top three choices and emerged the same. The race unfolded with favorite Lookin At Lucky taking up a comfortable running position in mid-pack with late running Dublin farther back and Noble’ Promise securing a good spot to the outside. Approaching the far turn Lookin At Lucky began to visibly pick up his pace and close in on the frontrunners when he suddenly got cut off and squeezed back. Taking up quickly, it looked like jockey Garrett Gomez might lose his seat as Lookin At Lucky jumped the heels of Noble’s Promise, destroying all momentum he had begun to build. As the field came out of the turn, Dublin shot up from the back, Noble’s Promise seized the lead and Lookin At Lucky came on again. Taking the turn six-wide, Lookin At Lucky dug-in, running for all he was worth and flattening out to the ground until he looked like a speeding arrow, aiming straight and true for Noble’s Promise. As he came flying down the grandstand side the more than 36,000 fans in attendance caught the move and the audience came alive with pleas and screams of encouragement. Out front Noble’s Promise opened up and looked homeward bound, his long-awaited vengeance toward Lookin At Lucky rectified it seemed. At the shadow of the wire Lookin At Lucky’s tremendous run got the job done and the best horse won.

For a horse recently turned 3 Lookin At Lucky has been through just about every racing experience and scenario you can think of and comes through smelling like a rose every time. This time he was making his first start of the year, first start with blinkers and first start on dirt yet none of those factors seemed to faze him at all. You can’t even put into words how talented this son of Smart Strike is. He has now won 6 of his 7 lifetime races with his only loss coming in one of the greatest losing efforts in Breeders’ Cup history when finishing second by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after running extremely wide and breaking from the far outside. It is on to either the Wood Memorial (gr.1) on April 3rd or the Arkansas Derby (gr.1) on April 10th for the undisputed king of the 3-year-olds now.

Sidney's Candy wins the San Felipe

The San Felipe was all about Sidney’s Candy. From gate to wire the gorgeous chestnut son of Candy Ride led a deep, talented field of 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls on a wild goose chase. Undefeated Caracortado disappointed somewhat with a dull 3rd place showing, snapping his unbeaten skein of races in the process and seeming to lack his usual closing punch. Taking second was the ever-consistent Interactif from the stable of Todd Pletcher. He was closing well towards the end, but it was always Sidney’s Candy’s race the entire trip around. I’m still not sure what to make of this colt yet. His last two wins have looked super easy and smooth but front-runners always make me cautious. Against colts like Lookin At Lucky, Odysseus, Noble’s Promise or Eskendereya I’m not sure his front-running tactics would hold up.

Odysseus takes the Tampa Bay Derby

Now, what to say about Odysseus? Well, the list of things to say about this horse is much longer than the list of things not to say. What he has accomplished in an extremely short time is unbelievable. In the Tampa Bay Derby Odysseus took on much more experienced and very talented runners such as Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams and Uptowncharlybrown and came out on top in sensational form. He had me jumping out of my skin watching him run. Super Saver took the lead breaking from the gate and led all the way into the backstretch when Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams began to kick it into high gear. Schoolyard Dreams, under a full head of stream, shot by Odysseus and locked into a furious duel with Super Saver over the lead. Odysseus balked after getting almost cut off at the top of the stretch by the fast moving Schoolyard Dream when under a full head of steam and I thought it was all over, but he showed he is no ordinary talent by pulling himself together like a true professional and launching another furious drive to the wire. Kevin over on The Aspiring Horseplayer first brought this phenomenal colt to my attention, before I even heard outlets such as The Blood Horse, Daily Racing Form or Thoroughbred Times mention his name. Kudos to you Kevin and nice call on making him your early Derby pick way back when, looks like you’ve got a live one!

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6 Responses to “The Highs and Lows: Racing’s Big Weekend”

  1. gib. said

    “One good thing that most likely came from her New Orleans Ladies performance, in fighting for all she was worth Rachel Alexandra has probably gained a much needed tightening for her next race.” We thought that this would be true, but Team Rachel doesn’t seem anxious to get her back on the track.

    As for Zenyatta, we have all heard the inspirational quote, “refuse to lose.” Saturday’s performance was a classic example.

    • I’ve found several different sources that quote Steve Assmussen as saying that Rachel came out of the New Orleans Ladies in great shape, cleaned out her feed bin and is acting very chipper and full of energy. I think Jess Jackson just doesn’t like to enter situations where he feels like someone else may have the upper-hand or at least the stronger reputation.

  2. Hey Brian,
    Last Saturday was a really great day of racing; especially for March.

    Regarding the NO Ladies Classic: I’m pretty sure RA needed a race (or two) to get back to her peak. Jess Jackson’s catching lots of heat from disappointed fans, but he has an obligation to do right by the horse and as we all know, it’s an inexact science. I believe Jackson and Asmussen are trying to do what’s best for RA and it’s hard for an outsider like me to question that. Time will tell. BC’10 may be the showdown if they can both stay healthy.

    And it my be the BC’10 “Ladies Classic” instead of the Classic if 4yr old Blame and 3yr old Lookin at Lucky are as good as I think they are . . .

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes, Rachel definitely needed that race to get back into form,

      I agree. Jackson does have an obligation to do right by the horse, but he also has an obligation to the fans. If he wasn’t 100% about sending Rachel to the Apple Blossom before her debut in the Ladies (as he said after she lost) then he shouldn’t have told us all that he was sending her there. I’m sure he thinks he’s doing what’s right for Rachel, but running her in the Apple Blossom wouldn’t have killed either of them, and personally, after reading Steve Asmussen’s glowing remarks about Rachel’s condition the day after the race, I’m inclined to think she’s in way better shape physically and mentally then she was before the Ladies.

      The Breeders’ Cup would seem the best hope of seeing the two meet-up now. Lookin At Lucky is far better than a lot of people realize right now I think and I agree, he’s going to have a lot to say this year in the over-all scheme of things.

  3. Great article, Brian. I am such a big fan of Zenyatta. I don’t know if we’ll ever see the bottom of that horse before she retires. (And, it is sad to see Rachel lose and drop out of the Apple Blossom. I would have liked to see a race between the two of them with Rachel in her prime.)

    • Thanks Jennifer,

      I’m becoming a huge Zenyatta fan too. I’ve always loved watching her race, but never really been on her side untill last year. She’s too incredible for me too miss I guess!

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