By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com
Brought to you by Dan Illman of the Daily Racing Form
Like a large locomotive slowly building momentum, Zenyatta crept up to the leaders entering the far turn of Saturday's Vanity Handicap. Despite her undefeated record and 3-10 post time odds, one could feel the tension in the steamy simulcast facility.
"She's too far behind," exclaimed one punter.
"She doesn't look comfortable," chimed in another.
"What's Smith waiting for?" asked one more worried fan.
The concern was contagious. For a moment, no one spoke. Then, Zenyatta did the talking. If Mike Smith was a conductor on the big train, he would have blasted the horn. Zenyatta dropped her massive head, and picked up steam. For the eleventh straight time, she circled her foes, and then passed them with a minimum of fuss. For the eleventh straight time, she crossed the wire in front. For the eleventh straight time, she returned to the winner's circle to bask in the wild cheers of her home crowd.
Less than thirty minutes earlier, and 3,000 miles to the East, the main challenger to Zenyatta's claim as best horse in North America, Rachel Alexandra, absolutely crushed two overmatched foes in the historic Mother Goose Stakes. Rachel is younger, more tactical, and arguably more exciting than Zenyatta. She's frenzied dance music to Zenyatta's classic rock. Different strokes for different folks, but true aficionados enjoy the best of both genres.
Rachel Alexandra won the Mother Goose by 19 1/4 lengths. A remarkable feat to be sure, but the margin of victory still fell a length shy to her amazing performance in the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May. Rachel Alexandra has won her last three starts by a combined 40 1/2 lengths. The combined margin of all eleven of Zenyatta's wins stands at 26.
They are two of the best thoroughbreds we've seen in recent years, and they couldn't be more different. Zenyatta likes to lope along at the back of the pack, and doesn't kick into gear until the final three-eighths of a mile. She has won on dirt, but is the poster girl for synthetic racing.
Rachel Alexandra likes to be near the action from the opening bell. Sure, she "rated" in the Mother Goose, but only because her opponents engaged in cutthroat fractions in front of her. No doubt, Rachel likes to hear her feet rattle, and she can keep that pace up for a long time. Plus, she earned her reputation by beating the best males of her year in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing's hallowed Triple Crown.
Will they ever meet? The odds are against it. Racehorses are fragile creatures. One misstep in the stall can cause a multiple-month respite from competition. Zenyatta will likely retire at the end of the year. Rachel's connections won't ship to Zenyatta's home base to run on a synthetic surface. But, if they do. If they do. It would be the battle racing fans, denied a Big Brown vs. Curlin clash last fall, have demanded for years. There's nothing like star power to sell a heavyweight bout. Zenyatta vs. Rachel? A racing fan can dream.
So, who would you take?