Rachel has the upper hoof for top honor
Jerry Moss doesn't get it.
Zenyatta has no chance of being Horse of the Year unless she challenges and beats Rachel Alexandra. It doesn't matter if she stays undefeated. It doesn't matter if she wins the Breeders' Cup Classic. She can cure cancer. It won't matter. Beat Rachel Alexandra or else throw away any chance of winning racing's most coveted title. The choice is his.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Moss is going to take the kid gloves off. On a national media teleconference earlier this week, he made it pretty clear that Zenyatta isn't going to leave California or veer from the comfortable path she has followed throughout her career, which has included little but beating the same old horses at the same old racetracks. Ho, hum.
"It's not my choice where the Breeders' Cup is," he said. "We happen to live in California so that's what we build around."
That was Moss's mantra during the teleconference -- that Zenyatta will be running in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, which is where championships are supposed to be decided. To him, it's up to Rachel Alexandra to come to them.
"We believe that (the Breeders' Cup) is where champions are made," he said.
He's not entirely wrong. The Breeders' Cup, whether, in this case, it's the Ladies' Classic or the Classic, is normally the proper setting for championship showdowns. The thing is, it's not going to happen. Rachel's owner, Jess Jackson, is adamant that his filly will not be asked to run on the dreaded "plastic" and he's obviously not going to change his mind.
So, it appears that Moss is hoping that Zenyatta runs the table, wins a Breeders' Cup race and retires with an undefeated record. He must believe that will be enough to sway voters and wrap up a Horse-of-the-Year title.
"If she finishes her career with a perfect record, I believe that's really something," he said. "I mean that's a tremendous record. So I do believe she would deserve consideration (for Horse of the Year) on the basis that she's run in high-powered races, the amount of grade 1 victories she has had, and who she has won against. She deserves great consideration.
"Last year, Curlin supposedly got special consideration because he came back as a champion to continue running for another year to allow the public a chance to see him. And I applaud that decision. And that's what we're doing this year. We're coming back from a championship. I think we'll get some reasonable consideration for doing that when it comes to Horse of the Year honors."
Sorry, but it's not going to work.
The Haskell changed everything. After what she did last Sunday at Monmouth, demolishing a terrific collection of 3-year-old males, Rachel Alexandra is no longer just a very good filly or even a great filly. She has stepped into another realm. She is one of the very best fillies in the history of the sport, perhaps the best ever. She is extremely special and her accomplishments dwarf anything that Zenyatta has done or will be allowed to do if Moss doesn't change course.
Zenyatta will get some votes, but never enough to take Horse of the Year away from Rachel Alexandra. And it doesn't matter what Rachel does from here. She has already done enough.
The shame of it is that it doesn't have to be this way. All Moss has to do is say loud and clear that, after the start Sunday in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, he will go wherever Rachel Alexandra goes. Rachel could always duck Zenyatta by racing against 3-year-olds, but Jess Jackson would never do that. If he did, it would change the entire equation, making him the bad guy and the chicken and turning Horse-of-the-Year voters against him.
Jess Jackson has been the far bolder owner and, in the process, has outmaneuvered Moss. When it comes to Horse of the Year, Moss has been backed into a corner. The only way he can get out is to chase Rachel. To do anything else is to deny a great filly in her own right any chance of being named Horse of the Year.
It's your move, Jerry.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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