What a Saturday we’ve just witnessed! Where on earth shall I even begin? As many of you know, this weekend we loaded up the family and completed a roughly 500 mile round trip journey to witness Rachel Alexandra’s return to racing in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park. Ostensibly, the trip was a birthday present for my wife, who has grown quite attached to Rachel since watching her romp in the Kentucky Oaks in early May. I use the term ostensibly here because, let’s be honest, you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to the track.
With that in mind, we loaded up the family and rolled into New York city at roughly 1 Am Saturday morning. Reveille was bright and early so that we could rise with time to do some morning handicapping, take in breakfast, and head out to Belmont for the day’s events. Little did we know what we were in for.
At first glance, the prospects for the day seemed rather bleak. As the scratches and changes for the day’s card were announced, it became clear that Rachel would be facing only two other horses in the Mother Goose. Presumably (and forgive me if I’m mistaken here as with 500+ miles logged in the last 36 hours, suffice to say there hasn’t been a good deal of time available for fact checking) the Preakness champion had scared away most of her competition. Eyebrows were raised that the race was even being run, but then again, given the healthy crowd on hand (which from my vantage point seemed quite larger than Curlin drew for his turf debut in the Man O’ War last summer) that was largely there just to see Rachel- it seemed the correct decision to leave the race on the card.
Then, Rachel made her appearance. I believe my “tweet“ at the time was something to the effect of “My god, just look at her!” As unbelievably good as she appeared on Preakness day last month, she looked even better on Saturday. I didn’t think that was humanly (equinely) possible, but somehow she looked bigger, stronger, and more majestic. I blurted out “you guys are braver than me!” to the jockeys aboard her competitors, and then sprinted back to our seats near the finish line to watch the race unfold.
After witnessing Rachel’s absolutely dominating performance, I think it’s safe to say that’s the last time 3-year-old fillies will be willing to take her on. Seriously…it should probably be illegal. They simply stand no chance against her. Then again, beyond a late run from Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird in the Preakness, neither did the 3-year-old boys.
Now, in all fairness her competitors helped her out a bit by running insanely fast early on. Malibu Prayer and Flashing set ”suicide fractions” of :22.57 and :44.66 to open the race, but Rachel was every bit as good as advertised when asked for her run. She simply inhaled her rivals once she made her move and then busted loose in jailbreak fashion to open up a 19 1/4 length victory in a stakes record time for the 1 1/8 mile race of 1:46.33.
And you know what? Watching her run, she could’ve gone faster if either her or jockey Calvin Borel had wanted to do so. But why waste too much energy today when their are bigger and better things on the horizon?
Uh-oh…here comes that nasty debate again.
You can’t mention Rachel’s future without two topics coming up right away; The Breeders’ Cup and a potential showdown with Zenyatta. For now, both remain unlikely as owner Jess Jackson maintains that Rachel will not run on the “plastics” under any circumstances. Instead, races such as the Travers and the Haskell seem likely targets for her next effort.
Speaking of Zenyatta, “slow cheetah” was not to be outdone, running fantastically as well. In typical Zenyatta style she made it all look easy in whipping her 11th consecutive field to take the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park.
It might not have looked as sexy as Rachel’s victory, but Zenyatta was carrying a daunting 129 pounds. That’s no small task. You won’t see a runner breaking track records carrying that kind of weight. The important thing to note was that it still looked effortless for her. Even with all that weight on her back it still looks like she’s just toying with the competition. What a beast!
Just as the other 3-year-old fillies seem powerless to stop Rachel, the older fillies and mares seem utterly incapable of stopping Zenyatta (“you cannot stop her, you can only hope to contain her!”)
Clearly, these two runners are the best in the business at the moment, and the horse racing world waits with baited breath wishing, hoping, and praying that somehow, someday we’ll see them face each other.
About that potential Zenyatta/Rachel matchup that will continue to be the elephant in the room all year…a thought struck me on the way home that I just couldn’t shake. Think on this for a moment, if you will.
Should we be pushing for a matchup between these two?
Is our sport really not big enough at the moment for the greatness of each?
We don’t exactly have a very deep pool of greatness to choose from. I think it’s worth remembering that if/when they do meet up, that one of them would have to lose. I guess at some level, in my heart of hearts, I don’t really want either of them to go through that. True, Rachel’s doesn’t have the whole “undefeated” mystique that Zenyatta does, but she’s certainly on a roll that I’d hate to see stop. Likewise, it would be incredibly special if Zenyatta could finish her career undefeated.
I guess I can dream for now that if it ever does takes place, the two hit the wire in a dead heat. That’s the way I’d write this story if it were my book. Two valiant competitors, each with their own breathtaking style – giving one another all they can handle. An agonizing photo finish. And in the end, victory for each. Oh well…a guy can dream can’t he?
I’ll end on this note. You guys know how strong my love of Curlin remains to this day. Check this out and tell me I don’t have the best wife in the world? Somehow she managed to obtain both Jess Jackson’s and Steve Asmussen’s autographs as they prepared to send Rachel to post. When she first considered even bringing the hat, I tried to tell her that she’d never get the chance and that to even try was folly. Good thing she didn’t listen to my advice! As if that weren’t enough, thanks to a discussion with another Rachel fan from our Facebook fanclub, we managed to use Big Jerome in the 2nd leg of the late Pick 4 (Lisa, if you’re reading this – I’m talking about you, buddy! Great call!). That choice coupled with the timely disqualification of a runner in the final leg of the sequence led to a nice Pick 4 score that ended the day on an even higher note than had already been achieved.
So yes, apparently a guy can dream…and sometimes those dreams come true! :)