Nov 8, 2009

It's About the Campaign, Not the Horse



It's official!  Zenyatta won the Breeder's Cup Classic, making history as the first female horse to win that race.  I admit I was a bit surprised - not necessarily because she won, but because she had never been tested against boys before and you just never completely know how a mare might perform in that instance.  But she won.  And impressively.  Her owners and trainers should be commended for finally putting her up against a higher class of horses.  Not that she didn't race good fillies and mares.  I just don't see the point of segregrating the sexes, especially when you've got such a spectacular horse as Zenyatta.  It was beyond time to challenge her at a higher level. 

As to who should win Horse of the Year honors...well, I still believe that title needs to go to Rachel Alexandra.  She won the Kentucky Oaks by the largest margin ever recorded for the race.  She won a triple crown race from a post position that no horse, regardless of sex, had ever won from before.  She won twice against Summer Bird, the only other horse that could pretend to have a shot at the title.  She is only 3 and managed to be the first filly to win the Woodward and against older male horses.  Okay, she didn't show up for the Breeder's Cup, but I fully respect and agree with that decision.  It has been proven on enough occasions that dirt horses with no prior races on synthetic or turf are at a disadvantage on synthetic surfaces.  And though I haven't read it in full yet, I recently skimmed the results of a study just published that synthetic has not been proven to be very useful in the battle against racing fatalities.  Unfortunate, but not unexpected.  You don't solve problems by treating the symptoms.

And so the point remains....Rachel Alexandra has performed magnificently over the course of the year at a far younger age than her rival.  Look, it's ridiculously unfair to have to compare these two super-horses.  You cannot fault them on anything.  They are both brilliant girls and the fact that they are racing in the same year should make us take pause and be grateful at having the chance to be connected with both of them.  We always moan about the lack of talent and public appeal, but now we have it and instead of lauding them, we are picking sides and pointing out the rivals' faults.  It's silly.  I do believe Rachel Alexandra deserves to win HOY, but not because Zenyatta didn't win well-enough.  If I have to admit it, I believe it's because Jess Jackson chose to push Rachel Alexandra beyond her limits before he really needed to.  He was never content to let her rest on her laurels; he risked her losing very early on.  Zenyatta is 5 and has only been racing in California against fillies up until now.  And I have to ask why.  That's what ended up hurting her in my opinion.  Her campaign was waged far more cautiously than it needed to be.  Not by her fault, obviously, but her relations should have been quicker to push the mare.  She had nothing to lose and everything to gain from it.  And she proved that yesterday by winning the BC Classic.  Imagine if she had been doing this all along throughout this year...  Then, there would be room for debate as to who is horse of the year. 

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