People would pay to see Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta: race track people.
A battle for the ages between the two fabled females not only would be an event of mythic proportions, realistically, it may forever remain a myth, because it probably never will happen.
Jess Jackson, owner of Rachel Alexandra, a 3-year-old filly who defeated males in the Preakness Stakes, and who is undefeated in six starts this season, including two victories by margins of some 20 lengths, is on record as saying Rachel Alexandra (pictured) will not run in Breeders’ Cup races over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride track on Nov. 6 and 7.
Zenyatta, a 5-year-old mare that has never lost in 11 career starts, all but one on synthetic surfaces, has the Breeders’ Cup as her long-range goal, either the Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 6 or a date against males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7. If their campaigns ended now, Rachel would be Horse of the Year. She defeated males in the Preakness and having raced on the East Coast, has the biased backing of those voters, while it’s been same old, same old for California girl Zenyatta. The only way Zenyatta could earn those honors would be to defeat Rachel in a head to head race, or to beat males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Between now and the Breeders’ Cup, the paths of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are on distinctly diverse courses. Thus, to put it in archaic terms and with apologies to Samuel Clemens, barring the unforeseen, it is a foregone conclusion that never the twain shall meet. Now and forever more, Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta will be a subject of speculation, open to opinions from novice to notable, from savant to sucker.
"It would depend on conditions of the race, the distance, the pace, the track surface and the weights," said Garrett Gomez, who has seen the best of both horses, from different perspectives. The 37-year-old jockey, Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s outstanding rider the past two years, and in quest of his fourth consecutive national money title, finished 11th behind Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness on Pioneerof the Nile, and second to Zenyatta on stablemate Life Is Sweet in the Milady Handicap.
"If they met in a match race, Rachel Alexandra would have the advantage," Gomez continued, "but on a synthetic surface, Zenyatta would have a huge advantage, although she won her only race on the dirt, too (by 4 ½ lengths, her greatest margin of victory, in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 8, 2008). But her other 10 races have been on synthetics, and Rachel Alexandra has run on nothing but dirt except for that race at Keeneland (a three-length win on Polytrack last Oct.18).
"Rachel Alexandra right now is better than most of the boys, if not all of them. She already proved she can beat them in the Preakness, and all she’s done is win as a 3-year-old. But as for competing against older horses, she’d have to take another step forward. Zenyatta is a beautiful race mare, and she’s done whatever’s been asked of her. A race between the two of them would be something to watch, I’ll tell you that."
Gomez walked the politically correct walk when asked which one he’d ride, given the choice. "I’d like to ride both of them," he said, "but they’ve got two different running styles. Rachel is a pacesetter or a pace presser, and Zenyatta comes from behind the back door." Zenyatta has never been in front in any of her races until she hits the stretch, meaning she reserves her powerful charge until the real test comes.
"The positive thing about Zenyatta is that she only runs about a quarter of a mile every race," Gomez pointed out. "Horses like that are easy on themselves and tend to have longer careers, whereas a filly like Rachel is involved the whole race and has had to kind of fight in every race she’s been in, even though she’s won by a distance in a few. Other than the Preakness, she hasn’t had to run very hard as a 3-year-old."
With half the year remaining, Gomez was some $500,000 behind leader Julien Leparoux in his quest for a fourth straight money crown. Gomez and his agent, Las Vegas native Ron Anderson, remain focused on overtaking Leparoux. Gomez aborted his East Coast tour sooner than scheduled in order to be with his family in Southern California, where he has resumed riding full time.
"After the Preakness (May 16), business kind of sloughed off, but that was expected," Gomez said. "There wasn’t much left for us to do, but with the start of Del Mar, hopefully we’ll have better opportunities. Julien raced the whole meet at Churchill Downs and had a solid campaign, and he’s having a good year. I just have to get on my bicycle and me and Ron have to get going again. The past month or so have been a little slow due to the fact that I took time to move back home and business at Hollywood had to be re-established somewhat, and there weren’t a lot of big races elsewhere in the country. But I’m optimistic that we can get the ball rolling again."
Meanwhile, the world awaits a race that will never be, Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta, and it is the poorer for it.
George Williams, an 81-year-old trainer who saw Nashua defeat Swaps in their 1955 match race, put it best when asked about a potential Rachel-Zenyatta showdown. "They’d fill up two grandstands to see that race," the old timer said.
Bobby Frankel’s absence from the track for over a month has aroused more than humdrum curiosity since it’s been accompanied by whispers that the Hall of Fame trainer is battling a serious illness, but when contacted by phone last week, the intensely private Frankel told me, "I’m fine," but offered no timetable as to when he might return to the races. Told there were rumors circulating about his health and the possible disbanding of his stable, Frankel, who turned 68 on July 9, dismissed the buzz with three words: "Let ‘em talk." … Save your money betting on the following horses listed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Book: Rachel Alexandra (not running), Pioneerof the Nile (retired), Quality Road (sidelined), Albertus Maximus (ditto), Kentucky Derby morning line favorite I Want Revenge ("He’d have to be back in training right now," trainer Jeff Mullins told me last Saturday. "He won’t make it.") and Georgie Boy (better suited for Sprint or Dirt Mile than the mile and a quarter of the Classic) . . . Horse to watch: Allaboutimage, a New Zealand-bred filly trained by John Sadler who rallied deceptively in U.S. debut at six furlongs on turf but was caught in traffic through the stretch and finished 10th of 12, but was beaten less than six lengths … California might be broke, but the economy can’t be that bad. Every kid in the state has a cell phone and a skateboard.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden