Let me preface the following opinion by saying this: I am ready for the criticism. I have braced myself for the backlash. I have found a safe place to duck for cover. OK, now I am ready. Here goes...
Are the connections of Zenyatta really serious about racing her in the Vanity Handicap on June 13? Are they kidding?
On April 26, DRF reported that John Shirreffs has decided to race the undefeated mare in the Vanity--for the third consecutive year. Explaining his decision, Shirreffs said "it's the logical choice," and "for us to ship, it's so much different. We have to ship across the Rockies. It's so much different out here than going up and down the East Coast."
When the story first came out it was Derby week, so I let it go. With the insanity of the classic now over, I feel compelled to address the issue. And I must say, I find it hard to believe they are actually going to enter that race, for several reasons.
First of all, do we really need to see Zenyatta beat a few California-based mares on synthetics again? We know she can beat them and can probably do it running on three legs. She has done it time and time again, wowing all of us along the way with her brilliance. There is nothing left to prove in that arena, especially at her home track where she is invincible. With only a few races left in her career, isn't it time for her to leave her comfort zone?
As far as I'm concerned, once Zenyatta won the Breeders' Cup Classic she raised the bar so high that she should have raced exclusively against males in 2010. That being said, I was OK with her first two races of the year because the Santa Margarita was a prep for the expected showdown versus Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom. We all wanted to see that race. Jerry and Ann Moss, and Shirreffs, were doing the sporting thing in that situation. They kept their word and showed up in Hot Springs. It was not their fault that Rachel didn't show. I was OK with all of that.
But now it's time to step up. The Mosses said they wanted her last season to be about the fans. They wanted racing fans everywhere--not just in California--to be able to see this exceptional horse. The June 12 Stephen Foster is the "logical" spot, not the Vanity. The Foster is the same weekend as the Vanity, only it is at historic Churchill Downs, on real dirt, and against males. With this year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill, it also makes sense to give her a run over the same track she will race over in November. The "shipping across the Rockies" excuse is pretty laughable.
Is Zenyatta the best female racehorse of our lifetime? Maybe, but we will never know if she continues to face the same competition. As great as she is, she has still never faced males on dirt. There is no getting around that.
The Foster offers the connections a perfect starting point for what should be an East Coast summer campaign that would also include races against males at Belmont and Saratoga--two other historic racetracks she has never been to. At this point, I'm not sure we will see her in New York. It seems like they are content to continue beating the same level of competition, and if that is the case, it will be a shame for racing fans everywhere.
This is not about Zenyatta vs. Rachel anymore (though I wouldn't be surprised if Rachel showed up in the Foster). If the showdown happens, it happens. If it doesn't, then so be it. I'm tired of talking about that, and quite frankly, with every subsequent loss by Rachel the gap widens between the two superstars. This is about challenging Zenyatta and letting fans outside of California see her--not just in November, but all summer. She is 16-0 and has proven without a shadow of a doubt that she can beat females, especially on synthetics. With only about four races left in her career, let's see her on real dirt against males--more than just once.
The Mosses were obviously upset at the Eclipse Awards in January when Zenyatta was denied Horse of the Year. But she clearly did not win the award because her campaign included only one race against males, and now it seems, she is headed down the same path in 2010.
Fire away Zenyatta fans, but please keep it real...