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20 Thoughts on Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta

1.  Not only did Mike Smith not even go to the stick in the stretch drive but he was barely giving Zenyatta a handride as they crossed the finish line.  About the only thing he was really doing was steering her into the openings between horses as Zenyatta made her way to the front.

2.  Midway down the backstretch of the New Orleans Ladies Stakes I thought Rachel Alexendra was going to blow away that field as she was in perfect stalking position.  Once I saw Zardana making a big move on the turn and Rachel not separating herself from the field I thought, "is she in trouble?"

3.  When you watch the way that Zenyatta won that race would it have mattered if she had been carrying 130 pounds?  What about 135?  140?  The only thing that could have prevented Zenyatta from winning yesterday was the traffic ahead of her; the speed of the other horses and the added weight on her back appeared irrelevant.

4.  If the both mares go to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom (and that's a big "if" at this point), you've got to wonder how much that race will have taken out of Rachel and how much Zenyatta still has left in the tank.  Perhaps that was the perfect race to tighten up Rachel, or perhaps it will be a little too physically demanding.  Her upcoming works should tell us a lot.

5.  Unless the Apple Blossom has a brutally slow pace with Rachel Alexandra clicking off fractions of :25, :50, and 1:15 on the lead, I don't know that I'd bet against Zenyatta.  I'm usually a little apprehensive about deep closers because there is always the possibility that they won't get the trip, the pace, or just flat out can't make up the ground in time.  Even my favorite horse of all-time, John Henry, as tough and as gutty as he was had races where he just couldn't make it no matter how hard he tried.  Zenyatta, the freak of nature that she is, always gets there and usually with something left in the tank.  

6.  I've heard a lot of criticism of jockey Mike Smith over the years, much of it stemming from the belief that he will avoid going inside when making a move in the stretch.  And while that may have been true in the past, Smith seems to have found a level of confidence that has him riding at an extremely high level right now.  In addition to taking Zenyatta inside to grab the win in the Santa Margarita, he made a similar move with Proviso (GB) to beat the boys in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile just last weekend.  

7.  I've generally held the opinion that if I were making the odds for a race pitting Rachel and Zenyatta against each other I would always make Rachel the favorite.  After Saturday I think I'd have an awfully hard time doing that.

8.  While I don't doubt trainer Steve Asmussen that Rachel wasn't 100% physically fit or that she "needed a race", I still think it's shocking she lost.  Look, that was about as sweet of a set-up as she could have asked for even if the jockey and trainer were trying to get her to settle as opposed to letting her run loose on the lead.  It was a small field, she broke well and got a perfect stalking trip right outside the leader, and when she turned for home she didn't have enough in the tank to beat a filly that has won only a single graded stakes in her career - the Grade 2 Bayakoa at Hollywood Park on December 5th, 2009.  The Rachel from 2009 should have been able to beat Zardana running at 75%.

9.  Rachel Alexandra has now run two taxing races in back-to-back outings: she was all out to beat Macho Again by a head in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga on September 5th, and she was close to, if not all out, to try and hold off Zardana yesterday.  I don't know if that means anything (it probably doesn't) but I found it interesting, nonetheless.

10.  The New Orleans Ladies Stakes saw a fairly hot pace on the front end, easily the fastest of the three route races on the card (as it should be).  The chart below summarizes the early pace for every main track race at the Fair Grounds yesterday:

Race

Dist.

Condition

¼

½

¾

2

6f

LA 10k Clm N2L, 3yo

:22.90

:47.40

1:11.86

3

6f

LA 5k Clm N2L, 4up

:22.76

:47.01

1:12.73

4

6f

MdSpWt, F&M, 3yo

:22.93

:46.99

1:10.25

8

6f

25k Clm, 4up

:22.02

:45.64

1:10.21

11

6f

Alw OC/N2X, F&M, 3up

:22.15

:45.98

1:11.35

 

 

 

 

1

8f 40y

10k MdClm, F&M, 4up

:24.51

:49.66

1:15.87

6

8.5f

Alw OC/N3X, 4up

:24.88

:49.15

1:13.64

10

8.5f

NO Ladies Stakes, F&M, 4up

:23.84

:47.72

1:12.86


Rachel Alexandra's early fractions were 24.01, 47.89, 1:12.86.

11.  The Santa Margarita had the quickest 6 furlong pace of any route races at Santa Anita yesterday: 1:11.16.  A comparison of the pace of all main track races at Santa Anita yesterday appears below:

Race

Dist.

Condition

¼

½

¾

1

6.5f

CA 40k MdClm, 3yo

:22.44

:45.64

1:09.88

3

6.5f

MdSpWt, 4up

:22.11

:44.64

1:08.88

4

6f

MdSpWt, F&M, 3yo

:22.93

:46.99

1:10.25

6

6f

10k Clm

:21.75

:44.62

1:09.02

10

6f

12.5k Clm, F&M, 4up

:21.53

:44.38

1:09.78

 

 

 

 

2

8.5f

8k Clm, F&M 4up

:23.84

:48.20

1:12.20

5

8.5f

Alw OC/N$L, 4up

:24.52

:49.20

1:13.09

7

9f

G1-Santa Margarita, F&M, 4up

:23.88

:47.69

1:11.16

9

8.5f

G2-San Felipe, 3yo

:24.39

:48.55

1:13.26


12.  The Beyer figure for Rachel Alexandra came back as 100.  While it was shocking that she lost it's not like she flopped and ran up the track.  Essentially, Zardana ran the race of her life and Rachel wasn't up to her 2009 form.  Rachel is certainly eligible to improve off of her race.

13.  Zenyatta earned a Beyer of 102 for the Santa Margarita.  Considering how much she appeared to have in the tank at the finish you wonder what the mare could have run if she was given a clean trip.  Of course, it always seems like Zenyatta does just enough to win her races, winning by a length or two, at most.  The easiest win of her career? The 2008 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn where she won by 4 1/2 lengths over Brownie Points and Ginger Punch.  

14.  How keyed up was Rachel for her race?  Watch her as she runs into the first turn at Fair Grounds yesterday where her momentum takes her three or four wide.  Watch her again as she runs down the backstretch with her ears pricked and Borel taking a tight hold.  Perhaps she wasn't 100% in term of fitness but she certainly was geared up to run hard early.  However, that early eagerness probably cost her the race in the end.

15.  Despite the fact that both horses didn't win yesterday, I thought it was a great day of racing all around.  Whenever I'm watching a big race at home I usually pace around the TV room just prior to the gates opening and yesterday was no exception.  Even before Rachel's race, which I erroneously thought would be a laugher, I had a great sense of anticipation.  Why?  Because we are lucky to be able to watch horses of this caliber run for us.  Pure and simple.  

Fans and the media like to talk about how racing needs its stars to stay in training instead of running off to the breeding shed.  Well, we've got two stars sticking around, we should enjoy it while it lasts.

Racing is supposed to be fun to watch and yesterday it was.  

16.  I wonder how far Zenyatta could run if given the opportunity?  She won going a mile and a quarter in the Breeders' Cup...what about a mile and a half?  Or a mile and three quarters?  I'd also be curious to see what she could do on the turf.

17.  The Superfecta in the Santa Margarita paid $531.20 for $1...that's not too bad considering you've got a 3/10 shot on top.  More pari-mutuel madness from Santa Anita: the late Pick 4, with Zenyatta leading off at heavy odds, paid $1,214.40 for $1, thanks in large part to the 36/1 winner of the 10th and final race of the day.  

18.  Nice to see the big crowds at Fair Grounds and Santa Anita yesterday.  Despite popular notion to the contrary, people will still go to the track in this day and age but you've got to give them a reason and that reason can't be a card filled with 5k maiden claimers and race meets taking place in the the dead of winter in places where it's cold as hell all the time.

19.  From the chatter around the internet, it sounds like the NTRA had a lot of trouble with its live streaming of both races yesterday which is too bad since it was a good move on their part.  For all that racing does wrong (and there are certainly many things in that category) the sport is much more liberal with its video distribution than other sports and networks. Consider this: NBC tape delayed and edited the Olympics on both TV and the internet; you essentially couldn't watch a live Olympics event (other than hockey) if you lived on the west coast...and it's the year 2010.

Think about how other sports would have treated yesterday's races:

The NHL would have put both races on a channel currently in a dispute with DirecTV and not available to any of their customers.

The NBA would....well, I haven't a clue what the NBA would do since I stopped watching that league about eight years ago.

The NFL would have blacked out both races to the California and Louisiana markets because the races weren't a sellout.

And Major League Baseball would have only allowed people in Louisiana to watch Rachel, and people in Southern California watch Zenyatta, while the rest of the country would have been "blacked out" due to territorial restrictions.

So even though the NTRA's web-stream of yesterday's races experienced technical difficulties at least they were willing to try to use the power of the internet to bring it to people live.  And unlike other sports, race tracks will post replays of their races in their entirety on YouTube and not shut down others that do the same.  For the most part, the tracks are starting to realize that you want to allow as many people as possible to view your product and not the other way around.

20.  I figured that the show pool for the Santa Margarita would be a little more sane than what we saw in Rachel's race, but it wasn't and that puzzled me.  I suppose the bridge-jumpers thought that Zenyatta was a "sure thing" to finish third but as we all saw in the stretch drive, the traffic alone could have cost her the race had a hole not opened up.  I didn't expect the that type of show betting in a nine horse field.

Anybody want to take a guess at the show pools for the Apple Blossom should both Rachel and Zenyatta show up?