Whether Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta is named Horse of the Year 2009, the controversy over who won and lost will rage forever. The winner will be announced on Jan. 18, 2010, at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Jaws will drop no matter whose name is uttered. It’s been in that mode since Zenyatta dominated a world-class field in winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.
Prior to that history-making triumph in which Zenyatta became the first female to win the Classic and completed her career unbeaten in 14 starts, it was a foregone conclusion that Rachel Alexandra would be Horse of the Year. She was undefeated in eight starts at seven different tracks in this, her 3-year-old season, and defeated males three times: in the Preakness Stakes, becoming the first filly in 85 years to win the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown; the Haskell Invitational; and the Woodward Stakes, in which she conquered older males on Sept. 5, her last race this year.
Around the globe, opinions as to which horse is most deserving are as plentiful as blonde anchors on cable news. In California, where Zenyatta was based at Hollywood Park throughout her career, sentiments in a random sampling on Horse of the Year favored Zenyatta, but not because of geographic bias, which likely will favor East Coast-based Rachel Alexandra and her cordon of constituents.
Brian Koriner, a native of Montebello who saddled California Flag to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, is an unabashed Zenyatta devotee. "They had a World Series, and she showed up," the 43-year-old trainer said. "Zenyatta did everything Rachel Alexandra did. Yes, Rachel Alexandra beat the boys, but when it came down to it, they had the option to show up knowing the Breeders’ Cup played a big part in Horse of the Year, and they didn’t come.
"In racing, it’s what have you done for me lately. Just because I won the Breeders’ Cup doesn’t mean I’ll be a successful trainer in my life. Zenyatta did everything right, did it all year long and at the right time of the year … If they raced head to head, Rachel wins, because of her style. She’s up in the bridle and on the pace. But if they both ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Zenyatta would have beat her."
There was no equivocating from Jim Cassidy. "Zenyatta," said the 64-year-old Bronx native and devout New York Yankees fan. "It has nothing to do with being based in Southern California. I thought they were taking a big chance running Zenyatta in the Classic. It would have been easier to run her in the Ladies’ Classic, but they stepped up. This was the championship. It’s no different than a team winning the division and playing in the championship.
"Yes, Jackson (Jess Jackson, 79-year-old billionaire and majority owner of Rachel Alexandra) committed not to run in the Breeders’ Cup after the Woodward, but I got news for Jackson: The boys beat her up pretty good when she won the Woodward (by a head). I don’t think she would have been in any shape (to run in the Classic). They did the right thing turning her out. Jackson can cry about synthetics all he wants, but it’s a good thing he didn’t come, because he would have got his head ripped off."
Vladimir Cerin seconded the motion. "Suppose two years ago, when the New England Patriots ran the table and won the first two playoff games, they called up the Giants and said, ‘Everybody knows we’re the best, but we don’t like that AstroTurf, so we’re not going to play in the Super Bowl. Just give us the championship.’
"You’ve got to show up and dance in the most important dance to say that you’re the best, and Zenyatta did that. She beat eight Grade I winners and she was dominant. She didn’t just win by luck. She was dominant all year against the competition that was presented to her, but the most important thing is, she showed up on Breeders’ Cup day, which is our championship, and she proved she was the best. If you don’t come, you can’t just say, ‘Give it to me.’
"Rachel Alexandra beat nothing. She beat Macho Uno (in the Woodward). She beat third-tier horses. The ones she beat in the Woodward weren’t even good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup … If Zenyatta had gotten beat in the Classic, Rachel Alexandra would be Horse of the Year, and probably justifiably so. But not only did Zenyatta win, she destroyed the field. That last quarter-mile was electrifying. I’ve never seen a horse race where when it’s over and the next race is coming up, more than 50,000 people are talking to each other about the performance they just saw and not asking, ‘Who do you like in the next race?’
"Zenyatta is the greatest race mare I’ve ever seen. She may not be Horse of the Year, but the horse of this century, brief as it is. I’ve never seen anybody better."
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden