It is what every person who has worked in the horse industry, ever watched a horse race, or ever tossed away a losing ticket, waits to see: greatness in the Thoroughbred.
Those within the industry, who come from so many special interest groups that they never seem to agree on anything, can surely agree on this. Rachel Alexandra defines greatness in the Thoroughbred.
For a few moments the very real and pressing needs of an industry in sharp decline vanish as Rachel Alexandra reminds us again of why we love this sport so much. Seeing jockey Calvin Borel holding a loose rein, realizing he doesn’t really even have to ask her to run, we forget all that is wrong in horse racing and remember all that is right.
During the telecast of the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), the TVG announcers pondered which performance of Rachel’s had been the most dazzling, which is like trying to figure out which of Michael Jordan’s dunks was the most spectacular. Her 19 1/4-length tour-de-force in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) was mentioned, as was her victory over males in the classic BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
After the 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro beat males again, taking the Aug. 2 Haskell by a facile six lengths, one of the commentators immediately wanted to change his vote. And who could blame him? Borel and Rachel moved by Summer Bird, the winner of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and Munnings, winner of the Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II), in the turn for home and opened up by four at the head of the lane with seemingly little effort.
From this viewpoint, however, the moments of greatness Aug. 2 were not in the turn for home or at the wire, but prior to those moments. The first came as Rachel Alexandra walked out of the tunnel and toward the racetrack. With Monmouth Park fans pressed against each other to see her, waving signs while clapping and cheering, Rachel never turned a hair. She was cool, calm, and focused on the business at hand.
The second came just a few moments later, when, during the post parade, Rachel was shown walking toward the TVG camera. It was hard not to notice the size and scope of the filly’s hindquarters, the breed personified in her muscular yet confident walk.
Rachel Alexandra won the Haskell just a few minutes drive from the Atlantic Ocean while another that illustrates greatness in the Thoroughbred, Zenyatta, who is undefeated in 11 starts, was safely in her stall at Del Mar, the Southern California track from which you can see the Pacific Ocean.
Like Rachel, Zenyatta embodies special qualities quite evident to even the casual racegoer. When walking from the paddock to the racetrack, Zenyatta drops her head in a regal manner, and reaching the racing surface, paws at the track in fanciful fashion. Her competitors know they are in trouble.
A 5-year-old mare by Street Cry, Zenyatta also projects an imposing figure, standing 17 hands tall and rippling with muscles.
Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta is the match-up racing fans everywhere are clamoring for, though the odds of that happening appear much longer than either filly has been in their recent races.
Zenyatta, last year’s champion older female, has raced outside California only once. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, and trainer, John Shirreffs, have indicated she will make her next starts in California, where the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held for the second straight year in early November.
Rachel Alexandra has won eight straight and 10 of 13 overall, and her co-owner, Jess Jackson, has made it quite clear that he and trainer Steve Asmussen do not intend to run her on a synthetic surface, which rules out the Breeders’ Cup.
With Zenyatta not leaving California and Rachel Alexandra not running on synthetic surfaces, we have a stalemate.
Perhaps Fair Grounds, which opens around Thanksgiving and would be a good neutral site, should start working now on a race that could help define true greatness in the Thoroughbred. Or at least give racing fans what they most want to see.