I certainly have to admit that I was wrong, wrong, wrong about the Breeders' Cup Classic. I thought Zenyatta would be beaten by what was a very strong field of male counterparts on Saturday, but not only did she win, she won in remarkable fashion. A picture perfect ride by Mike Smith certainly helped her out, but Zenyatta certainly proved that she has a champion's mettle through her 14th consecutive victory.
This leads us to two questions: Who is Horse Of The Year? and Should Zenyatta be retired or continue racing? For the first question, I will say that while Zenyatta certainly made a compelling argument for the title, I still think the Horse Of The Year is Rachel Alexandra. Zenyatta never left California the whole year, and while she won over the different synthetic surfaces at Del Mar, Hollywood, and Santa Anita, she only stepped out of the box once and that came on Saturday. Otherwise, she defeated the same bunch of fillies and mares in California all year and never really received what amounted to a true test until that win in the Classic. Rachel Alexandra also completed an undefeated season and she stepped out of the box on numerous occasions throughout the year. She raced in several different places (Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Belmont, Monmouth, Saratoga) and she won over all of those surfaces, in good weather and bad, over fast tracks and sloppy tracks. She won the Kentucky Oaks by a staggering margin of 20 lengths, drawing comparisons to Secretariat. She won a Triple Crown race, becoming the first filly to win the Preakness in over 80 years. She won the Mother Goose by another crushing margin and did it in an exceptional time. She defeated the three-year-old boys a second time in the Haskell in the slop. Most damning for Zenyatta's camp was the win in the Woodward against older males. For a three-year-old filly to win that race after setting the pace and then having enough to hold off a strong closer like Macho Again, that put an end to the argument as far as I am concerned. Zenyatta was truly magnificent on Saturday, but she is just second-best this year.
As far as whether Zenyatta should be retired or not, I know that Cigar's 15 wins in a row is just two starts away, but I hope the Mosses and John Shirreffs elect to retire her now off of her signature performance in the Classic. It will just never, ever be any better than that, no matter how many races in a row she might win. It is also better to see her leave in triumph than to see her leave as a vanquished champion.
Looking WAY into the future, I am interested to see which pairing will produce the better offspring, Jess Jackson's Curlin & Rachel Alexandra or the Mosses' Giacomo & Zenyatta. The current leading ladies of racing might never meet on the racetrack now, maybe the kiddos will be able to get together in a few years and give us a glimpse of what might have been. It is certainly fun to think about.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of espn.com