August 7, 2009

Obscured by the seemingly constant bombardment of bad news about the sport is the fact that we are in the midst of a golden era for racing fillies and mares worldwide. Consider, in this decade we have witnessed:

● New Zealand iron-mare Sunline winning 32 of 48 starts (finishing out of the money only four times)—with 13 G1s, including back-to-back victories in the prestigious G1 Cox Plate against males.

● Future Hall of Fame sprinter Xtra Heat who won 26 races in 35 starts (including 11 graded stakes) losing the 2001 G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint—by ½ length—to Squirtle Squirt.

● Legendary Aussie mare Makybe Diva winning not one or two, but three consecutive G1 Melbourne Cups over males, the only horse to do so in a race first run in 1861.

● Three-year-old turf phenom Ouija Board finishing a closing third in the FR-G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe against older males, before taking the 2004 G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and again in 2006.

● Aussie sprinter Miss Andretti crushing Takeover Target (among others) in the G1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, on her way to being named 2007 Australian Racehorse of the Year.

Rags to Riches battling down the stretch against future UAE-G1 Dubai World Cup victor and Horse of the Year Curlin, winning the 2007 G1 Belmont Stakes.

● Three-year-old Zarkava soundly defeating older males in the 2008 FR-G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

● Three-year-old Vodka becoming the first filly in 64 years to win the JPN-G1 Japanese Derby, and then winning back-to-back editions of the prestigious JPN-G1 Yasuda Kinen over males in 2008 and 2009.

● Gutsy sprinter Indian Blessing falling ½ length short of victory in the 2009 UAE-G1 Golden Shaheen, in her first start against older males and on a straight track.

● Three-year-old Goldikova not only defeating dual classics winner and G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Henrythenavigator in the FR-G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, but also a strong field that included returning champion Kip Deville in the 2008 G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile.

These are but a few examples, all of which demonstrate the exceptional talent that has captured the hearts and imagination of fans.

At present, two brilliant fillies stand at the summit of American racing—undefeated Zenyatta on the West Coast and “colt-destroyer” Rachel Alexandra in the East. In many ways, this regional divide (surprisingly, in this day and age) drives the rivalry between them. The Mosses prefer to race Zenyatta in California where she is unbeaten on the artificial surfaces prevalent there (although she did win the 2008 G1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on the dirt). Rachel Alexandra is devouring her three-year-old competition, including males in the G1 Preakness and G1 Haskell Invitational. Her owner Jess Jackson appears to have no problem setting her on an ambitious campaign that may including trying older males in the G1 Woodward. However, to the consternation of some fans, it appears highly unlikely the two will meet this year, as Jess Jackson has been adamant regarding not racing Rachel at Santa Anita in either the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Ladies Classic) or the Classic against males due to the Pro-Ride surface, and the Mosses see little reason to leave their home state to race.

Much as I would like to see these two meet, there is a silver lining here—keeping the two separate builds drama, and focuses attention on both coasts. Let Zenyatta win the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall, while having Rachel run against older males in the Woodward, Jockey Club Gold Cup and/or Clark Handicap. Rest them over the winter, and then meet in the Apple Blossom in April, but don’t stop there—commit them to a series of matchups like the G1 Stephen Foster at Churchill (June), or G2 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth (August), avoiding New York’s detention barns and California’s artificial surfaces. Maybe even card special races or tracks could get creative and move stakes around to have them meet at Keeneland, Woodbine or even Presque Isle. The big event, of course, would be the Breeders’ Cup Classic when it returns to Churchill next fall.

In the meantime, market the hell out of these two—starting with actually getting their races on network television. Bring horse racing back into some semblance of mainstream recognition. These two forces-of-nature not only could it pull off, but deserve nothing less.


SaratogaSpa said...

much as I would like to see RA v. Zenyatta this year, I must say I love your plan on building the drama into 2010 matchups. Well thought out.

dana said...

"colt-destroyer" should be Rachel's boxing name!

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