Bet on Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year

Jan 5, 2010 5:06 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Eastern bias could swing votes for Horse Of The Year

The countdown for Horse of the Year continues, as does opinions ranging from black to white as to which horse deserves the honor, Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta. When the winner is announced in Beverly Hills on Jan. 18, joy or disappointment will reign down on one camp or the other.

Truth be told, neither horse deserves to lose, although you’d have a hard time convincing partisans. The 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra was unbeaten in 2009, winning eight races at seven different tracks and defeating males three times, older ones once. The 5-year-old mare Zenyatta ran a race for the ages when she became the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, capping an unbeaten career with her 14th straight victory.

Rachel Alexandra was a slam-dunk to be named the unanimous winner, even though she didn’t race after Sept. 5, thus not competing in the Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 6 and 7. But after Zenyatta decimated one of the best Classic fields ever assembled, it was a whole new ball game. It wasn’t that Zenyatta won the Classic; it’s how she won, coming from dead last in a field of 13, appearing hopelessly beaten with only a quarter mile remaining in the mile and a quarter race, and unleashing a breathtaking rally to overwhelm everything in her path. Gushes in the crowd of more than 58,000 at Santa Anita were palpable. Jaws dropped.

Now, more than two months later, the decision rests in the hearts and hands of the voters, but in the minds of two respected horsemen, there can be no winner. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will not share Horse of the Year honors. According to a Blood-Horse report, "Two of the three voting groups for Eclipse Awards have rejected a proposal to change this year’s voting procedures to allow for a vote for co-Horse of the Year."

"I think it’s a shame to slight either one of them," said 64-year-old Jay Robbins, who trained 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow. "Apparently, regulations prevent awarding it to both of them. It’s very difficult for Zenyatta to remain unbeaten for two years and not be Horse of the Year one of those two years."

 "That said, I can’t really separate the two. That’s why I say it’s a shame they can’t both share it. I really don’t have any feeling about who I would vote for. I think they should both receive it. It was no surprise to me when Tiznow won it. Winning his last three starts that year, the Super Derby, the Goodwood and Breeders’ Cup Classic, defeating older horses in the last two, pretty much clinched it for him."

Private clocker Gary Young said Rachel Alexandra "probably will be Horse of the Year, but it’s a really tough vote. Zenyatta ran an unbelievable race winning the Classic, but if the horses she beat had been a little more accomplished, it would help her chances. She won the biggest race in the country, but it wasn’t against the top four or five Classic fields history. A turf horse (Gio Ponti) ran second. A Juddmonte horse that just came off the plane ran third at 30-1. Einstein failed to fire. Several that were supposed to furnish opposition failed to fire that day."

For recent Hall of Fame inductee Bob Baffert, who conditioned 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given, objectively has a tendency to be put on the back burner when some voters go to the polls.

"I’d like to see Zenyatta win it, the way she ran in the Breeders’ Cup," the 56-year-old trainer said. "The Breeders’ Cup is set up to establish a champion, but they don’t always vote that way. Midnight Lute was much the best when he won the (Breeders’ Cup) Sprint in 2008 but he didn’t get the championship, so voters don’t always base it on that one race.

"I think East Coast voters will go for Rachel because she won at so many different tracks. Both horses have great records, but when you look at the big picture, Rachel did it every time. She started by winning the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths when all the eyes of the racing world were on her.

"Then she won the Preakness and just kept going. If I was a gambling man, I’d like to see Zenyatta win, but when the results are in, I would bet on Rachel."

Me too.

THE HOMESTRETCH

The controversial "Midnight Ride" by Garrett Gomez on his last mount on Dec. 31 gave him his fourth straight national purse earnings title. Gomez picked up maiden Cenizo in the eighth race at Santa Anita when Martin Pedroza "took off," citing illness. Trainer Julio Canani named Gomez to ride the horse, who won, giving Gomez $10,800 in earnings and enabling him to surpass leader Julien Leparoux by $10,606. Gomez had been $194 shy of tying Leparoux, who has been vacationing in his native France and hadn’t ridden since Dec. 3 … Speaking of numbers, trainer Steve Asmussen won 650 races last year, more than twice as many as runner-up Scott Lake (307) … And I still say I’d feel a lot safer in this country if, instead of Napolitano, the last name of our Homeland Security Director was Corleone.