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Zenyatta = Horse of the Year and 1+1 = 3

Every racing article or internet post promoting Zenyatta for Horse of the Year usually goes something like this:  “She beat the best so she’s Horse of the Year” or “She showed up and won when it counted – so she’s Horse the Year” or “She’s the greatest I’ve ever seen so she’s Horse of the Year.”  SO WHAT?  Those things have as much to do with why she should win the Horse of the Year award as the fact that I had Pizza for dinner last night.  There is simply no cause and effect relationship between these points.  It’s like concluding that 1 + 1 = 3.   It just doesn’t add up.

The one argument I have yet to see?  “Zenyatta had a better year than Rachel Alexandra.”  Why?  Because you cannot make that argument.  By no logical measurement did Zenyatta do more or accomplish more than Rachel Alexandra in 2009 – and THAT is what Horse of the Year is about…WHO HAD THE BEST OVERALL CAMPAIGN.

Yes – Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win was more meaningful than any single race Rachel Alexandra won.  But we don’t automatically award Horse of the Year to the BC Classic winner.  If we did, Raven’s Pass would have been Horse of the Year last year and Volponi would have been Horse of the Year in 2002 and the great Cat Thief would have been Horse of the Year in 1999.  Certainly undefeated Awesome Again would have been Horse of the Year in 1998 ahead of Skip Away, but he wasn’t…because Skip Away’s accomplishments for the year dwarfed what Awesome Again did.  This is the same situation.  If Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win was the most meaningful win of the year by either horse, certainly numbers two, three, four, and five on the list belong to Rachel in the form of her wins in the Preakness, Woodward, Haskell and Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths.   That speaks to the difference in their overall campaigns: Of the 5 most significant wins of the season between the two horses, 4 of them belong to Rachel Alexandra.

By now we all know the stats: Rachel was 8-for-8 while Zenyatta was 5-for-5.  Rachel won 5 Grade 1’s and Zenyatta won 4.  Rachel beat males 3 times, Zenyatta once.  Rachel won over 7 racetracks in 6 different states, under all conditions, while Zenyatta never left California, never ran over anything but a synthetic surface, and was scratched the one time the track came up muddy.  They all favor Rachel.  From the total domination of her division, to stepping outside her division and beating males while encountering tough trips and pace scenarios that would have done in many other top horses, to becoming the first 3 year old filly to ever beat older males in the Woodward, Rachel Alexandra’s season was one for the ages.  Her connections challenged her at every turn – from running her in different states, on different racetracks, on wet tracks, to facing males in the Preakness from Post 13  just 2 weeks after her Kentucky Oaks win while switching barns, to facing older males at a time when most 3 year old fillies are still running in their own division.  There was absolutely nothing “safe” about her campaign.  They constantly took risks and challenged her when easier races were available.  This type of mentality absolutely needs to be rewarded – particularly in this day and age when horses run so infrequently and rivalries between top class horse so uncommon because most horses run campaigns built around the path of least resistance.

By contrast, Zenyatta’s connections managed her as conservatively as possible right up until the time of the Breeders’ Cup.  She ran a total of just 5 races.  She was scratched from her seasonal debut in Kentucky when the track came up wet and never shipped again.  She didn’t run in the Hollywood Gold Cup – a race her stablemate Life Is Sweet ran in.  She skipped the Pacific Classic – instead getting an extra month off going into the fall.  She ran in exactly the same races she won last year against competition she had proven superior to.  Her connections resisted all attempts to set up a matchup against Rachel Alexandra during fall citing the Breeders’ Cup as the setting for a race like that.  The racing season is more than just the Breeders’ Cup.  Connections who believe that there is no need to challenge their horses or push their horses until they get to the Breeders’ Cup set a bad precedent for the game and certainly don’t deserve to rewarded for that type of mentality.  Suggesting that good horses should never face each other outside of the Breeders’ Cup is just bad policy.

For those who suggest that Rachel’s connections should similarly be punished for passing on the Breeders’ Cup I’d agree had the BC been held on a standard dirt track and had she not shown signs of her challenging campaign beginning to catch up with her.  But it’s now beyond all reasonable doubt that pro-ride is an entirely different surface from dirt and running Rachel on that surface would have meant little more than running her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  Regardless, to use an overly cliched phrase in racing: She had done enough by that point.

There is no possible interpretation of their comparative seasons that places Zenyatta even at a level of equality with Rachel Alexandra in 2009 let alone ahead of her.  You cannot possibly compare the years side by side and suggest that Zenyatta had the better year or that she accomplished more.  Take Zenyatta’s BC Classic win for what it was – a single incredible performance – but not something that magically makes an otherwise nondescript year suddenly more impressive than the extraordinary season Rachel had.  Had Zenyatta’s year ended prior to the Breeders’ Cup she wouldn’t have even been # 2 or # 3 in the Horse of the Year voting based upon what she had accomplished to date.  Thus, any argument for her receiving Horse of the Year is built entirely around a single win in the Breeders’ Cup and that’s just not what Horse of the Year is based upon.

Horse of the Year goes to the horse who had the best and most impressive overall season.  In 2009 it all unequivocally adds up to Rachel Alexandra.

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Posted in Breeders' Cup, General Racing Discussion, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta.

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3 Responses

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  1. Brite_Star says

    I agree that in retrospect(her)Rachel’s over all year was more diverse than Zenyatta’s..which is why she won HOY.but It is sad when the “classic” distance is a mile and one eighth..(with exception of the BC)..I am sorry in all her races against males…including the Preakness and Woodward Stakes…she would have been caught in another 16th of a mile or less.  Yes Zenyatta stayed with fillies and mares until the Breeders cup….but look at the ease with which she won her races save for the “squeaker”….she wins with a burst of speed going away with her ears pricked. Her best has not been seen yet. I am sure neither has Rachels. They are two great horses. I just feel that Zenyatta IS the better one. She blew them away in the BC. We will see what happens this year. It is wonderful to have them both running again. May they both stay sound, healthy and happy. No match races please. Open competition !!!

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Horses of the Decade: 2000-2009 | linked to this post on December 25, 2009

    […] this logic seems to have fallen by the wayside for Zenyatta supporters when it comes to the Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra debate for 2009 Horse of the Year). Selecting a champion for the decade is even more difficult […]