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Rachel and Zenyatta: Just Meet in Louisville in the Fall

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BALTIMORE - MAY 16: Owner Jess Jackson celebrates in the winner's circle after his horse, Rachel Alexandra's win in the 134th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 16, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - MAY 16: Owner Jess Jackson celebrates in the winner's circle after his horse, Rachel Alexandra's win in the 134th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 16, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Like sands from the hour glass...

Yesterday the connections of Rachel Alexandra announced their intentions to skip the G1-Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park due to the advice of trainer Steve Asmussen, who doesn't believe he can get her ready in time for such a race.  And while that is certainly a legitimate reason (horses should never be pushed or rushed into a race they aren't ready for), it appears to me that this whole Rachel vs. Zenyatta saga is about to turn into an absurd situation.

I want to start this post off by first saying that I'm a big fan of Rachel Alexandra; her Oaks and Preakness wins were two of the more impressive displays of equine power than anyone will see at the track.  She's a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime type of filly.  If I were setting a line in any race between the two I would make her the favorite every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  But unfortunately for all of us horse racing fans, the game involves a great deal of human interaction.  Interaction that sometimes gets in the way of the greatness of the game.

Look, I obviously have no say in the management of Rachel Alexandra or any other thoroughbred and I fully understand that they are free to do whatever they feel like with their horses.  At the same time, I find the choices of Rachel Alexandra's connections to be wearing thin on my patience meter as a racing fan.  

First up was their decision to have Rachel Alexandra bypass the Breeders' Cup.  Let's just call this move exactly what it was: Jess Jackson taking his ball and going home after Curlin was defeated at Santa Anita in the Classic one year earlier.  Curlin obviously didn't take to the synthetic surface (a fact that was clearly evident the first time he past the grandstand), and his distaste for the plastic most likely cost him the chance to win back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classics.  If the race had been run on dirt I have little doubt that Curlin would have dispensed with the Euros with ease.  But he didn't, and that ticked off his connections.  

Jess Jackson was trying to prove a point last fall by skipping the Breeders' Cup.  His point? He hates synthetic surfaces and holds them responsible for Curlin's defeat.  Of course, his Super Filly didn't appear to have a problem with synthetics when she won an Allowance at Keeneland over the Polytrack in October of 2008.  But that fact is irrelevant if you come to the conclusion that skipping the Breeders' Cup had nothing to do with Rachel but everything to do with Curlin.

So Rachel skips the Synthetic Breeders' Cup, Zenyatta wins the Classic, retires, and then reappears out of nowhere...okay, not "out of nowhere" since she continued to work out regularly.

Here's something I find humorous in this whole affair: Zenyatta retires yet keeps coming to the track in the mornings to work out.  In fact, she has six published works since December 7th.  Rachel Alexandra stays "in training" and doesn't touch a track until January 31st, her first action in almost five months.  Obviously, if the horse isn't ready, the horse isn't ready.  But it kind of seems to me that Jackson and Asmussen don't have any plan whatsoever with this filly.

We then come to the Oaklawn Park announcement - a $5 million purse in the Apple Blossom if both Rachel and Zenyatta show up and race.  It wasn't the perfect set-up for either camp: both horses would only be able to get one race under their belts before the Apple Blossom and both would have had to come in off of a probable three week layoff.  The timing was better for Zenyatta than Rachel due to the fact that she's been working steadily for about a month and a half.  Of course, this begs the question: Is there ever going to be a perfect time for these two to meet?  I'm guessing either side could always come up with a reason why their horse isn't going to be at "100%".

The latest news is a proposed "three race series" between Rachel and Zenyatta during the course of the year.  The details of the proposal have yet to be made public, and I don't want to seem overly cynical, but I won't be surprised if Jackson proposed three match races at 7 furlongs, a one-turn mile, and a mile and a sixteenth.

The only way a three race series makes any sense, in my eyes, is if it offers something for each camp.  One race should be at the sole discretion of Rachel's camp.  One at the sole discretion of Zenyatta's camp (and, yes, I think that could mean a race in California on a synthetic surface).  And the third should be at the Breeders' Cup, either in the Distaff or the Classic.  Absent some scenario similar to that I think it'll start to become abundantly clear that Jackson will run Rachel against Zenyatta only if he gets things all on his own terms.  

At this point, if I was deciding what to do with Zenyatta, I would run whatever campaign I see fit for her irregardless of Rachel, Oaklawn, the NTRA, and anyone else that tries to orchestrate a match-up of these two champions.  Then I'd bring her to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup in November and run her in the Classic; if Jess Jackson wants a shot he can show up in Louisville, or he can find some reason to retire Rachel in July.

In the article that I linked to above, Zenyatta's owner Jerry Moss commented on the next steps for his mare.  I found the quote below both refreshing and telling:

"Then we'll see what's next,'' Moss said, adding that the goal is to run in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6. "The Breeders' Cup is something I honor. I believe that's where championships are decided.''