By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA
As we all know by now, Rachel Alexandra received the Eclipse Award as 2009 Horse of the Year Monday night in Beverly Hills. Thus ended a nearly three-month long debate between two passionate camps. One group of fans favored Rachel Alexandra, the talented, precocious filly with eight wins in 2009 including the Preakness Stakes and Woodward, and the other backed Zenyatta, the amazing undefeated mare from California who became the first female to win the Breeders Cup Classic. It was clearly a disappointment to the mostly California audience in attendance at the Eclipse Awards, but few could argue that Rachel Alexandra was undeserving after a historic campaign and body of work that included those eight wins from eight starts by a combined 65-lengths.
The best part of the evening, however, was knowing that no matter how the vote turned out, we would see both of these remarkable athletes continue their racing campaigns in 2010. You see, two days before the Awards dinner, Zenyatta's incredibly sporting owners, Ann & Jerry Moss, announced that Zenyatta would not retire but in fact would race as a 6-year-old in 2010. What a gift to our business. Jess Jackson has always said his intention was to race Rachel this year as a 4-year-old - another sporting gesture not unlike Jackson's decision to race Curlin as a 4-year-old the year before last.
After years of watching our stars cut their racing careers short as owners understandably pursued lucrative breeding and stallion syndication deals, it's a breath of fresh air to have Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra both back for another year. The intersection of these two dynamic careers may well give us one of the classic rivalries of all time. Think Affirmed/Alydar or Sunday Silence/Easy Goer.
We will be meeting with the connections soon to gauge their interest in facing each other in one or more races over the coming months. Of course, all of us would love to see a match-up between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra sooner rather than later. However, we also need to remind ourselves that they are animals, not humans. Their health and wellbeing will ultimately be the deciding factors in when and where they next compete. And, that's exactly how it should be.
But even after this week's memorable Eclipse Awards ceremony, I believe It is everyone's strong preference that the 2010 debate about who is the better racehorse be decided not in the ballot boxes, but on the race track.