Over the last two days we have learned that Zenyatta is likely not leaving California and Rachel Alexandra won't be going to California. Great, isn't it? The two most popular horses in training this year will not meet one another. Sound familiar?
If it does, that's because we went through this same thing last year when we all envisioned a Big Brown vs. Curlin match-up. In that case, Jess Jackson kept us guessing until the final months before deciding to send Curlin to California. Unfortunately, the anticipated battle never happened because of Big Brown's bad feet. Understandable in that case.
On Wednesday, Jackson ended the speculation early about a Rachel vs. Zenyatta match-up when he told the media his filly would not be going to the Breeders' Cup because he doesn't want to risk her on "plastic surfaces."
From where I sit, I refuse to blame Jackson or Zenyatta's connections for taking separate paths. Each is doing what they think is right by their horse. Jackson has made his feelings about synthetic surfaces known for a while now, so his refusal to race in the Breeders' Cup is not surprising. To his credit, he has an aggressive second half campaign planned for her and will likely race her in 2010 if she is sound. My only issue with him is when he uses the word "plastic" several times during the course of an interview. In doing so, he is intentionally belittling every racetrack around the country that has decided to use a synthetic surface-a decision each made mainly for the safety of the animals. Not the kind of word ambassador would use whether you agree with synthetics or not.
As far Zenyatta, John Shirreffs did not rule out the possibility that Zenyatta will go east, but why should she? The ultimate goal for her is to win the Breeders' Cup (Classic, hopefully), so it makes no sense to prep her on anything but California tracks. No brainer from where he sits.
The powers that be were well aware that some very good horses would potentially not show up in California when they scheduled the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita two years in a row, so if anyone is to blame it's them. Last year, they dodged a bullet when Jackson reluctantly agreed to send Curlin. This year, they won't be as fortunate when the most popular horse in the country won't be there.
And so the debate about synthetic surfaces rages on. Are they safer for the horses? Are they here to stay? Will California eventually go back to traditional dirt? Only time will tell.
In the interim, the only ones who lose out are the fans-those of us who would love to see Rachel vs. Zenyatta, but will never get the chance to. To throw it in our faces even more, both are racing on the same day this weekend, only on different coasts. Rachel will go against four overmatched rivals in New York. Zenyatta will face seven more of the same in California. Both could be 1-9. Exciting, huh?
I'll let you guys figure out a solution or who is to blame. Only thing I know is that this sport rarely gets it right. And we wonder why it's losing popularity.