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Both Sides Now

Rachel Alexandra arrives at BelmontI get it, I really do – after the debacle with Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup, I can see why Jess Jackson doesn’t want to bring Rachel Alexandra to the Breeders’ Cup this year. But two facts don’t quite fit in with his firm anti-‘plastic surfaces’ viewpoint. The first is that Curlin always seemed to perform better over a surface (any surface) the second time around – so can we be sure he would not have taken to Santa Anita in the long term? You can argue that the fact he clearly didn’t love racing on grass (despite the fact that his sire has produced some strong turf runners) suggests he would never have taken to it, but it’s hard to know for certain.

Secondly, and more importantly for the argument at hand, Rachel Alexandra has already raced and won over a synthetic track, at Keeneland. If anything, I would take that as another point in her favor as far as versatility – she can win a 6 furlong sprint over synthetics, or she can excel at a 1 1/8 on dirt. Both are Good Things. In that regard, her record is almost the mirror image of Zenyatta’sBig Z has one win over real dirt, with the rest on synthetics. That suggests that both fillies could be even more capable than they’ve already demonstrated – but good luck trying to find out!

While I’m annoyed that it’s extremely unlikely that Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra will ever face one another, I think that we have a lot to look forward to from the Rachel Alexandra camp, especially with the suggestion that she will continue to face top-level competition later this season, perhaps in the Travers, and that we should see her next year if all goes well. (Obviously for my own convenience I’m hoping for a Del Cap/Travers combo – and it sounds as though that is not beyond the realm of possibility). And while I believe Zenyatta is an amazing horse, it seems that she will probably not get the chance to really demonstrate her prowess – unless she does go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (and against a horse like Einstein, who is proven on any sort of surface you’d like to throw at him – couldn’t that be a breeding goal?). That, in my opinion, is the most unfortunate part of this situation – Zenyatta will never get the recognition she is (probably) due. But if skipping the Breeders’ Cup means we see more of Rachel Alexandra next year, then hey, whatever works – although I think that’s got a lot more to do with her humans than with her talents.

I’d also add that I don’t subscribe to the notion that there’s something inherently wrong with synthetic surfaces – I don’t believe the data is there to support that they are necessarily safer than a good dirt surface, but I enjoy the races run on them. This is largely because I’m a fan of Australian and European turf racing and I’m quite content to see their horses come over and beat ours – I think it serves as a useful reminder that there’s more than one way to breed and train and that it’s worth considering those options. True, some horses will never take to it – but let’s not make assumptions ahead of time over which will and which will not.

But that’s a discussion to revisit a little later in the year – this weekend, we still get to see two great fillies in action, even if it’s not against one another (or, in fact, much of anything). I really like NYRA’s microsite supporting Rachel Alexandra’s visit – the graphic design work featuring her name in yellow would make for a much better logo than the very plain white and pink design that’s currently available in shirt form. By contrast, there’s very little out there discussing Zenyatta’s run this weekend. She does get a press release and short video on the Hollywood Park website, but that’s about it – and the mainstream media certainly doesn’t care at all. I’m sure the buildup to this race will be documented on ‘Jockeys,’ but by the time these episodes air, there will be precious little time left to see Zenyatta live – if any at all.

Here’s hoping both fillies destroy their current competition and remain healthy – and that even if they never face one another, they will take on some tough horses this year wherever they go. If Horse of the Year is the goal, Rachel Alexandra is already ahead in that contest (although there’s more to do – don’t forget Einstein, Well Armed or Mine That Bird) – and she’s miles ahead of poor Zenyatta in the Wider Public Awareness Stakes.

I’m sorry I’ll miss seeing both races live (and I will have to see if I can get home from my conference in time to watch the US take part in its first ever FIFA final, after Sunday’s and yesterday’s miracles), but I will certainly be monitoring both fillies and the soccer from TweetDeck while I’m away. There is much TiVoing to be done…

3 comments to Both Sides Now

  • Anonymous

    I hate to say it, but I think that Jackson is being a jerk here. RA has run on all sorts of surfaces. Could it be that his ego is still stinging because of Curlin's loss last year? Maybe he's afraid that Zenyatta will beat his horse? I guess that we will never know! Sigh

  • Superfecta

    I think it's got to be about keeping Curlin's value as a stallion as high as possible – although given that it often seems breeding decisions aren't made based on factors like fitness or versatility these days, I'm not sure why it should matter.

  • Anonymous

    If Jackson races RA at four I'm all right with the decision, especially if she races Z sometime this year. He's one of the few owners who genuinely does things with the fan in mind and I'm very grateful for that.

    At the same time, if he his sincere about Curlin's performance in the BC Classic, I think he is unfortunately not facing up to a few facts.

    Curlin ran one of the two best races of his career in Dubai, then ran a very strong race in the Stephen Foster but quite honestly tailed off after that. He raced against inferior competition (not his fault) but speed figure wise ran very mediocre numbers for a reigning horse of the year.

    Andy Beyer pointed out before the race that even on dirt, he looked vulnerable against the Euros, especially one like Raven's Pass (bred in KY by the way — may have quite liked the dirt) who seemed to be peaking.

    Finally, despite all the talk of Curlin disliking the poly, it was something that Asmussen simply concocted post race out of frustration and a little bit of poor sportsmanship I suspect. Curlin ran great all the way up to his hitting the straight, and then came up empty. He wasn't floundering a the back of the pack. In addition to that, immediately post-race, Albarado specifically said that the horse was handling the surface fine (who better to judge) but he simply wasn't the same old Curlin when he was asked to meet the challenge.

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