Thoroughbred racing in 2010
consists of three universes, all moving in parallel lines. One is the Triple
Crown trail, which possesses an aura all to itself and is oblivious to any
other existing worlds.
The two other realms have
been meandering through space, occasionally veering off their axis. On one
occasion they appeared to be headed on a collision course, but passed
harmlessly by each other.
One is a world of
incomparable beauty and pageantry. At its core is arguably the most charismatic
diva that ever graced the racing stage, accompanied by some of the most
appealing co-stars ever assembled. That is the world of Zenyatta.
The central figure in the
other world is another femme fatale of equal beauty; an immensely gifted
athlete who, unlike Zenyatta, has for the most part remained cloistered away
from her adoring fans and cloaked in secrecy. That is the world of Rachel
Whether these two worlds will
ever deviate enough from their current paths to actually make contact with each
other, no one knows for sure. What we do know is that while Rachel Alexandra
was steering clear of Zenyatta, Mighty Mare was putting on a show beyond
compare and stealing the spotlight from the sport's reigning queen. Although
Rachel Alexandra wears the crown, it is Zenyatta who has emerged as the monarch
to many racing fans.
The multitude of signs
adorned in gold and burgandy that were so visible last year at Pimlico, Belmont, Monmouth
Park, and Saratoga, have given way to enough aqua and
pink signs to fill a convention hall.
Every bow and every dance
step from Zenyatta makes the heart flutter and brings smiles to the faces of
adoring young girls and hardened veterans alike. Every victory adds a new
chapter to an already epic tale. It is as if Jerry and Ann Moss, John Shirreffs
and Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, and Mike Smith have taken on the persona of one
big, happy family, sharing their treasure with the public. Everyone wants a
piece of Zenyatta. A photo of her is something to admire. A photo with her is something to cherish. To be
in her presence is something to remember.
It has reached a point where
many feel Zenyatta no longer needs Rachel Alexandra, whether to attain
redemption for a title lost or simply to prove that it is she who is the
rightful Queen of the Turf.
Last summer, Rachel Alexandra
was considered by most to be one of the greatest fillies of all time; the
ultimate superstar racing had been seeking for so many years. Now, the
superlatives and accolades are being directed at Zenyatta following her
history-making Breeders' Cup Classic victory and two subsequent victories
following her brief retirement.
It is important to remember
that Rachel Alexandra has done no wrong. Yes, she tasted defeat for the first
time in 16 months, but that was primarily because she was rushed back from a
lengthy layoff in order to defend her crown against Zenyatta for a $5-million
payday. She gave no indication she was ready fitness-wise for such a task, but
her owner, Jess Jackson, succumbed to the lure of the event after initially
declining. Let's say for sportsmanship's sake he did it for the good of the
Following Rachel's defeat in
a prep race at the hands of Zenyatta's stablemate Zardana, Jackson withdrew her
from the Apple Blossom, citing the same reasons he gave initially - she wasn't
ready to be rushed into battle, especially against a more fit and seasoned
Zenyatta. Unfortunately, it took a defeat for him to come to the conclusion he
had already come to earlier.
Now, many feel Jackson is ducking
Zenyatta. Regardless of what one thinks of Jackson
from a public relations standpoint, it is inconceivable to think, after
Rachel's ambitious and unprecedented campaign last year, that Jackson would duck anyone. As it is, he was
willing to duel with Zenyatta with a weapon he feared was not fully loaded, and
only backed off after it misfired beforehand.
The feeling here is that if
both fillies are fit and healthy they will meet somewhere down the road.
So, let us celebrate the
greatness of Zenyatta, who is worthy of all the idolatry that has been bestowed
upon her. She truly is one of the greatest Thoroughbreds (male or female) to
ever grace the American Turf, and in many ways the most unique. Yes, people
have a tendency to anthropomorphize her antics, but she does seem to exhibit
human traits, as if she were some reincarnated prima donna brought back to
perform on a different stage. Never before can anyone recall being entertained
by a Thoroughbred in such a manner.
But while rejoicing in the
afterglow of Zenyatta's memorable triumphs, we should not let the greatness of
Rachel Alexandra dim after all she did for the sport last year. There certainly
is room for two immortals in a pantheon that has had so few occupants in recent