Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Long-Distance Clash of the Titans: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 11, 2010

Rachel Alexandra

Though Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will be separated by almost an entire nation this weekend when they race, the one in Kentucky and the other in California, every single move they make will be compared to the other. The immense rivalry between these two came into full light last year when both athletes finished off the year with perfect records and both defeated older males impressively. They were literally the only candidates considered for Horse of the Year honors and legions of enthusiastic fans on both sides were adamant that their horse was the better and more deserving of the championship. It made for fantastic publicity, excitement and fun debate but when it was all said and done 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra took home the crown.

Now in 2010 Zenyatta, the Champion Older Female of 2008 and 2009, has remained undefeated in both her starts while reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra has failed to win any of her two starts to date.

On Wednesday majority owner Jess Jackson announced un-fashionably late that Rachel Alexandra would be making her third start of the year in Churchill Downs Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr.2) on June 12. Rachel Alexandra comes into the Fleur de Lis with a series of 5 consecutive works that began shortly after her defeat in the La Troienne Stakes six weeks ago. Her last move came on Monday when she went five-eighths of a mile in 1:02 4/5, one week earlier she dazzled her connections with a six furlong work that went in 1:11 1/5. According to the BloodHorse her internal fractions for the six furlong move at both 3 and 5 furlongs mark were so fast that they beat the “bullets” of the day at those distances. Prior to her incredible 6 furlong work she went 5 furlongs in a sizzling 1:00 2/5. One important thing to note is that she also posted strong numbers for her gallop outs at the 7 furlong mark. She is looking even stronger and far sharper than she was coming into the La Troienne. If there is ever a time for the real Rachel to make a comeback now is it.

Toting high weight of 124 pounds, Rachel Alexandra will be giving form 7 to 11 pounds to her opposition. She will face just four rivals in the Fleur de Lis and of those four only Made for Magic and Jessica is Back have stakes wins to their credit.

Made for Magic won the Milady Handicap (gr.2) at Hollywood Park on May 16th. She will be looking for her third win of the year and has managed to win 3 of her 9 career starts on the dirt.

Jessica is Back last finished second in the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr.3) on April 17th and last year she posted four Beyer speed figures that topped the 100 mark.

Distinctive Dixie finished 5th in the La Troienne last out behind Unrivaled Belle and Rachel Alexandra. Multipass rounds out the field and will be looking for her first stakes win of the year.

I know I’ve said this the last two times, but this really is Rachel Alexandra’s race to lose. She has run two terrific races this year already and her works now are looking just like they did last year when she was popping out wins left and right. I expect her to win by open lengths here and hopefully see her return to her fabulous winning form.

Across the country Zenyatta will be shooting for a modern day record of 17 straight victories in the Vanity Handicap


(gr.1) and will also be attempting to win the race for the third consecutive time having already captured both the 2009 and 2008 renditions.

I have just one thing to say about her racing here. She should have been in the Stephen Foster Handicap this weekend instead of the Vanity, that is where she belongs and that is the only place where she might have actually had some quality horses that could give her a challenge. Now the big story is the lack of pace she will have to overcome in the Vanity. Is there anyone who really believes a slow pace will slow down Zenyatta. I don’t think so. I will most certainly be rooting for her to win her 17th consecutive race and remain undefeated but the clear and painfully obvious fact is that John Sherriffs and the Mosses are ducking the competition. Not because they don’t feel they can win, but because they are in a comfort zone right now, they feel completely unthreatened by anyone racing this year. So far Zenyatta has given no indication that she can’t win another Breeders’ Cup Classic for them and if that happens and she remains undefeated it’s going to take one incredible horse with some unprecedented racing feats to beat her out of Horse of the Year. Maybe Quality Road can challenge her, but even if he wins most of his races before the Breeders’ Cup and Zenyatta remains in California she still has the upper hand. She proved herself the master of the males last year as did Rachel Alexandra, but unlike Rachel Alexandra she has continued to dominate in devastating style this year. She could conceivably remain in the California until the Breeders’ Cup and still win Horse of the Year because we all know what she is capable of and voters might feel she was perhaps the best last year. Reputation means a lot and Zenyatta has the best around.

While I appreciate that the Mosses brought her out of retirement to race her for an unprecedented 4th year, I would like to see them make good on some of their more encouraging words. Right after they announced their decision to keep Zenyatta out of retirement Jerry Moss said “We’ll run against anybody, gender is not a factor”. Gender was supposed to not be a factor this year and so far to date they aren’t running against anybody, they are running against nobodies. This year was supposed to be about showing Zenyatta to the fans across the country and not just through a TV screen. So far it’s still just California and Arkansas.


12 Responses to “Long-Distance Clash of the Titans: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta”

  1. Carla Ruth said

    Really, St Trinians and Zardana are nobodies? So Rachel was beaten by a nobody? St Trinians really has a chance to steal the show here stalking a slow pace and with hot jockey Martin Garcia aboard. (Obviously I don’t want that to happen!) As for the Stephen Foster, are Macho Again or General Quarters somebodies? Yes, Blame has been improving, but seriously. Because horse racing in this country is such a male dominated sport, many fans can’t see that many fillies and mares are actually better than the “boys”! I believe that the Vanity is the tougher spot, especially since Zenyatta will be carrying far more weight than everybody else.

    • Hi Carla, nice to see you again! Bear with me please, I really didn’t mean for my response to end up so long! 🙂

      Zardana and St. Trinians are good race fillies for sure but they are nowhere near the quality of Zenyatta. St. Trinians couldn’t even finish in the money in the “Big Cap” as the favorite in early March against the boys, troubled trip or not she couldn’t even come close to beating a decent field of males. Zenyatta toyed with some of the best males in the world in the Classic, I just don’t see a threat. Anything can happen, we all know that and I do agree with you that St. Trinians is the most legitimate contender in the Vanity. I think that many mares and fillies are better than the males and Zenyatta is certainly one of them, but in the field she is facing I seriously doubt Zardana could threaten the Stephen Foster after her lackluster loss to Unrivaled Belle and Rachel in the La Troienne. St. Trinians is a synthetic horse so far so all you can do is speculate about her chances against the boys on dirt but Zenyatta would be facing a much stronger field in the Foster in my honest opinion.

      Yes I believe that General Quarters and Macho Again are somebodies, General Quarters has a grade one win on the turf and synthetics, if he gets the Stephen Foster win that makes a grade 1 victory on three different surfaces. He could turn out to be this year’s Einstein. Macho Again seems to get forgotten and overlooked by people all the time. He may not be the most consistent horse every time he runs but when he brings his “A game” he’s hard to beat plus he’s already a grade 1 winner after taking the 2009 Stephen Foster and almost stole the Woodward show from Rachel Alexandra last year.

      I guess my main point here is this, Zenyatta is going for an unprecedented 17th straight victory while still undefeated and only one of her 16 lifetime wins has come against males. Sorry, but I think that is pretty pathetic, she is beyond a doubt able handle the boys so what’s the excuse? A horse like Zenyatta who says it all on the track needs no excuse in my opinion so it’s the fault of the connections.

      As for the weight, she carried the same amount last year and handled it just fine. For a horse of Zenyatta’s size, strength and ability I don’t think 129 lbs. will be that big of a deal especially if it’s proven to be easy in the past. Curlin ran with 132 lbs. and did just fine and Zenyatta is one huge strapping mare.

      I hope this doesn’t sound too critical because it’s not meant to be, I love Zenyatta immensely and do not want to in any way tarnish what she has, and will continue to accomplish on the track. I’m just tired of the lame excuses owners (Jess Jackson included for sure!) and trainers make for their horses. Zenyatta could be doing so much more right now.

  2. Brian,

    I also have take you to task for doing the same to the Mosses. Remember, their tour was supposed to start with a showdown in the Apple Blossom but RACHEL was a no-show. I fully expected RACHEL to be ready for that and defeat her. She’d been off since September, her loss vs. ZARDANA was a good effort to set her up for the AB. Asmussen would have had her ready, no doubt. Jess Jackson is nuts, scared or both. His lack of commitment to the rivalry soured them. He’d be a horrible person to be with in any other kind of business dealings.

    After the AB, ZENYATTA and RACHEL could have met another two or three times settling the score at different venues about who was the alpha female. You cannot challenge ZENYATTA for staying in California without suggesting that RACHEL should have run in the Foster instead of the Fleur de Lis which is at the same track, on the same day.

    The only horse in training as of today for ZENYATTA to ship out for is QUALITY ROAD. ZENYATTA was not going to cut back to a one turn mile against QUALITY ROAD in the Met Mile (although the way the race was run she may have blown by the colt). RACHEL, her HOY luster clearly dulled off those two losses and questions regarding her desire, needs to prove she’s worthy of competing against those two. Crazy talk, I know, considering she’s the reigning HOY. As you said, IMO she needs to dominate those Fleur de Lis foes to get back into the conversation.

    Likewise, ZENYATTA needs to continue her streak against a very talented ST. TRINIANS who is more racehorse on the synthetics than any of RACHEL’s competition at CD is on dirt. Note that ST. TRINIANS was a tepid 3-1 favorite in the Big ‘Cap against the boys. None of RACHEL’s foes can boast being as strongly considered as ST. TRINIANS was in open graded stakes company.

    QUALITY ROAD is handling his business. Keep them all apart until the BC Classic…that would be a true clash of the titans!

    • Hi Rob,

      Don’t forget that the mosses claimed the Apple Blossom was their early year target all along and the match-up with Rachel Alexandra had no bearing on their decision. I was in the same boat as you at the time, Rachel Alexandra should have shown up for the Apple Blossom, it was just Jess Jackson looking to protect himself again that ruined it for the fans. I wasn’t criticizing the Mosses in any manner for running in the Apple Blossom. I applaud them on bringing Zenyatta back to Arkansas again and racing on the dirt, that was a step in the right direction. The problem after that was that they once again veered from a national campaign stage and shipped back to California instead of heading east or to Kentucky to run in some of the nations more prestigious dirt races. At this point she should probably be running mostly against males if not solely.

      I made the same observation about Rachel Alexandra being entered in the Fleur de Lis instead of the Stephen Foster on another blog. She should have run in the Foster instead, there was no good excuse except that Jess Jackson wants to rest assured that she gets an easy win on her record this year. Zenyatta should have been in the Stephen Foster as well, it’s the only place where she might have found somewhat of a challenge. It’s time for her to take her career to new heights, not just because she’s done this all before but because she can probably win just about any race in the nation right now.
      Quality Road is an amazing colt and it will be exciting to see if they all three make it to the Breeders’ Cup in top condition. I personally think Zenyatta could win races at much shorter distances and probably could have taken the Met Mile. When she turns it on she turns it on very fast and I don’t think she needs a long race to “unwind” her run.

      St. Trinians is a good horse but regardless of how well favored she was in the “Big Cap” her performance was dull, finishing sixth behind the talented Misremembered. If she can’t finish in the money against the males let alone handle them the same way Zenyatta did on synthetics then I don’t think she’s going to be that much of a threat to the big mare, but she is certainly the second best in the Vanity.

  3. Lisa Okie said

    This is such biased analysis it is hard to take seriously. Who is “ducking the competition?” Look at the field in the Fleur de Lis. It is definitely weaker than the field in the Vanity.

    • Hi Lisa, I’m assuming you are a Zenyatta fan (which I am too, a HUGE one) and love that you seem very passionate about you stance.

      Apparently you misread my intentions for this post. It’s not an analysis, it’s an opinion and I am not comparing Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in any way or suggesting that either one is ducking competition. I simply believe that Zenyatta should be stepping up her game at this point since she is obviously in a league of her own. It will be great to see her go for an amazing 17th consecutive win but why couldn’t it have been at a new venue preferably against males and on the dirt? It’s because the Mosses know that they have a good hold on the Horse of the Year title right now and don’t need to worry about stretching out to new challenges until the Breeders’ Cup. All I want is a true championship campaign from Zenyatta the likes of which we all know she is capable of running.

      By the way I absolutely agree that the Fleur de Lis is a very weak field and Jess Jackson was certainly ducking the competition for this one hoping to chalk up an easy win for his filly. I said in one of my comments above that I feel she should have been running in the Stephen Foster instead.

  4. Brian,

    Just goes to show ours is a friendly debate…thanks for the kind words about my new look at the blog. Can you guess who the featured hoss is?

    • That’s the kind of debate I like! 🙂
      At first glance I though maybe it was Lookin At Lucky on your blog but the horse looks too tall. Is it Rail Trip?

      • Brian,

        It is LOOKIN AT LUCKY…headed to the saddling enclosure before the Santa Anita Derby. Seven proved unlucky that day but the Preakness made up for it.

        Regarding RACHEL…they finally let her roll. There was nothing to save her for today and look at the result. Asmussen and Blasi can definitely manage and train top class horses as long as the owners don’t get in their way.

        RACHEL held serve, now it’s up to ZENYATTA against RACHEL’s Fair Grounds conqueror and stable mate ZARDANA. ST. TRINIANS will also offer a strong test.

        Check out my Sunday post featuring the queen.

      • It is Lookin At Lucky…I should have stuck with my instinct I guess. The only reason I changed was because I couldn’t remember what his post position number was on Santa Anita Derby day lol, and I thought that the first time he was a #7 was in the Preakness Stakes.

        Re Rachel: One of the biggest problems in the Rachel camp right now is how much say Jess Jackson has in everything. It seems like he’s making every decision on his own and not letting the trainer decide what is best for the horse…not the best recipe for success.
        Will definitely be checking you new post out.

  5. Steve M. said

    After the Apple Blossom showdown didn’t pan out, I seems both Moss & Shirreffs and Jackson & Asmussen intend to let the BC Classic be the RA vs. Z venue and all theses other races are just “preps.”

    Of course, it won’t be a two-horse race as Quality Road is a monster and Blame has emerged as a serious contender. Lots of people are dismissive of Blame as posing any kind of challenge to Z or RA, but when you watch his races and look at his record, he’s legit. But I hope he continues flying below the radar just so I can get a decent price come Nov 6th!

    • Hi Steve,

      It’s going to be a fantastic Breeders’ Cup Classic if Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Quality Road all show up in good shape. I really hope we get to see these two great race mares slug it out on the track someday.

      Apparently you’re right about Blame, I’m not sure about him yet. He’s very good but I’m not sure I think he is as good as Quality Road, Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra. He has a great record so maybe it’s just the fact that he doesn’t win by huge margins that keeps him under the radar.

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