A World of Their Own

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 Alexandra.

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 sport.

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 years.

 

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