A Greatness of Her Own

It is midnight on Sunday. Tomorrow morning, I'm off to Saratoga. I had no blog planned for this week, even if Zenyatta won the Clement Hirsch, due to time restrictions and last-minute packing. But Zenyatta's performance cannot go unmentioned.

Let's face it, there are Rachel Alexandra goosebumps and there are Zenyatta goosebumps. They both send the same chills down your spine, but are triggered by different types of feats that bear little resemblance to each other.

Rachel Alexandra always puts herself in position to win, so it is her dominance over her rivals and amazing displays of brilliance that take your breath away. Zenyatta is just the opposite. Although she has your heart pounding a long way out, it was in the Clement Hirsch that she really had it racing, and proved a head victory can tell as much about a horse's greatness as a 10-length win.

The bottom line is, Zenyatta should not have won the Hirsch. When you're last in a field that is strung out a dozen lengths, and then they wind up going three-quarters in a sloth-like 1:13 3/5, and you're still 4 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole, and you have to come home in :23 1/5 and then a final sixteenth in about :05 3/5, and you get there, there is no doubt you are something special. And let's remember that the runner-up, Anabaa's Creation, had won her only start on a synthetic surface since coming to America and was a classy filly in France, where she finished in the first four in six group races, including two group Is.

Although the Hirsch is a far cry from the Marlboro Cup, you have to admit that Zenyatta looked an awful lot like Forego when he closed like the proverbial "freight train" out in the middle of the track to beat Honest Pleasure right on the wire in 1976. The great ones know how to win.

Zenyatta is a great champion. Rachel Alexandra is a great champion. It's reached a point where I don't care whether they meet or not. That's just me; I don't want to see either one get beat. Yes, it would be great for the sport, but there's a lot to be said for Rachel running the table the rest of the year and being named Horse of the Year and Zenyatta also running the table and retiring undefeated in 14 or 15 starts.

In 1988, Personal Ensign, despite winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff over Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in one of the most thrilling finishes ever witnessed, lost out to Alysheba for Horse of the Year honors.

In 1983, the outstanding French filly All Along was voted Horse of the Year in the United States. In 2002, the brilliant Azeri also won the coveted Horse of the Year award.

Both All Along and Azeri were magnificent champions, certainly two of the best fillies of modern times. But ask yourself this question: Of the three aforementioned fillies, which one made a larger impact on history and will be remembered as one of the greats of all time?

It is the opinion here that the vast majority of people would answer Personal Ensign. I did not include another Horse of the Year, Lady's Secret, because of all her monumental achievements over a prolonged period of time and racing consistently against the best colts in the country.

The point here is, retiring undefeated, while racing at the upper level of the sport, carries with it an aura of invincibility, the stuff of which legends are born. Yes, everyone in racing has been clamoring for a match-up between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. But, as that seems unlikely to happen, let's look at the plain truth regarding Zenyatta's place in history, excluding the fact that 11 of her 12 races have come on a synthetic surface.

If this mountain of a mare wins the remainder of her races, assuming at least one will be against males, and retires with an unbeaten record of, let's say, 14-for-14 or 15-for-15 and loses out to Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year, does anyone really believe that another Eclipse statue, even the granddaddy of them all, is going to add that much to Zenyatta's place in history?

If Alysheba had lost the Breeders' Cup Classic, would Personal Ensign winning Horse of the Year made much of a difference, if any, how she has been perceived over the decades and where she ranks among the sport's greatest fillies? Ruffian, for all intents and purposes, retired undefeated and was never Horse of the Year, and never even defeated males. Has that diminished her stature in the slightest? I didn't say accomplishments, I said stature.

This certainly is not meant to imply that Zenyatta retiring undefeated is going to overshadow Rachel Alexandra in any way. No one is capable of overshadowing a filly who could be one of the truly greats of all time. If she continues her astounding feats, some will call her the greatest ever and it would be hard to argue with them. But that doesn't mean Zenyatta won't have earned her own place in history.

Regardless of whether you're a Rachel fan or a Zenyatta fan, and regardless which one you feel is better, what's important is that we have two great females running this year, moving along on parallel roads with no intersections in sight. You can plead with Jess Jackson and Jerry Moss all you want. Each has his own agenda, and each must be respected for doing what he believes is best for his filly, whether you agree or not. And, please, no sympathy for the Breeders' Cup for reasons that are obvious.

This also is not meant to dissuade those clamoring for a match between the two. Keep on clamoring. The interest it would generate would be unprecedented in modern times. But try to see the bright side if it doesn't happen, which seems more likely at this point.

Remember, this is being written at midnight, only a few hours after the Hirsch, while still in knee-jerk mode, and with Saratoga on my mind. But, through my muddled brain I just have to conclude, thank goodness for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Racing needs them both, and the fans need them both, so let's just enjoy them both.

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