Commentary

Where is the buzz?

Updated: June 14, 2010, 4:43 PM ET
By Paul Moran | Special to ESPN.com

Zenyatta catches St Trinians in the final 1/16 to win the Vanity and stay unbeaten.
Horsephotos.comZenyatta caught St Trinians in the final sixteenth to win the Vanity and stay unbeaten.
With the midpoint of 2010 hard upon us, the prospect of a meeting between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, so keenly anticipated since the debate over which was more deserving of Horse of the Year honors in 2009, remains no more than that -- a prospect.

It appears unlikely that they will face one another any time soon. With her 17th victory in Sunday's Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the undefeated Zenyatta surpassed Citation and Cigar's historic winning streaks by an American champion, an almost incomprehensible accomplishment that will long be savored in the collective memory of those who have witnessed the drama of unfolding perfection.

Rachel Alexandra, meanwhile, has encountered a bit of adversity in the current season, though after a pair of defeats she appears to have righted the ship with a solid victory over the weekend in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. Nevertheless, those two defeats have removed at least some of the blush from the rose, leaving the reigning Horse of the Year in the shadow of Zenyatta's continued infallibility. If Rachel Alexandra's principal owner, Jess Jackson, harbors hopes of his 4-year-old filly winning another Eclipse Award, he must seek out a meeting with Zenyatta, who is now the sole occupant of the driver's seat in the older female division.

With Zenyatta having moved to a clear lead in this perceived -- if entirely academic -- rivalry, the thing that should be foremost in the immediate plans of her connections would be focusing on exposing their magnificent mare to a wider audience.

It was evident, even from a simulcast vantage point a continent away Sunday, that the massive Zenyatta is a beloved figure in California. She drew a crowd to Hollywood Park and put on a show in the best Tinseltown tradition. Not only does she not lose, she exudes personality and has an unmistakable presence, a self-awareness manifest in only the very best of horses.

But she has ventured outside California only twice, both times for races at Oaklawn Park, where an anticipated $5 million spring meeting with Rachel Alexandra failed to materialize. Zenyatta might not have a great deal to gain by racing outside her home state before the Breeders' Cup in November, but she has -- in addition to building upon her own legend in progress -- the potential to do much for the sport.

Everything Cigar did was a major story on a national scale. Though she may be the best horse we've seen in years and owner of the longest winning streak ever assembled by an American champion, Zenyatta is not a media star in the mainstream.

In the east, her ultimately successful bid to pass Citation and Cigar was almost a secret in the media. Newspaper prerace coverage was scant before and after the Vanity. Television coverage of the race was not expanded beyond the standard simulcast. The core audience does what it must to see a race of this magnitude, but the casual racing fan is not prone to seek out streaming video offered by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association or to seek out a simulcast venue for a 7:40 p.m. EDT Sunday evening post time.

Zenyatta's winning streak is starkly different than was Cigar's.

His owner, the late Allen Paulson, showcased Cigar coast-to-coast: in New York, Florida, Boston, Chicago and Del Mar. Trailed by a cadre of journalists representing most of the nation's large newspapers, he filled racetracks in each of those cities. The airplanes and vans on which he traveled were usually escorted by police, sometimes followed by news helicopters. At Saratoga, 6,000 people watched a 6 a.m. workout before the 1996 Pacific Classic, the race in which the streak would come to an end. He was retired in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden during the National Horse Show. Everything Cigar did was a major story on a national scale. Though she may be the best horse we've seen in years and owner of the longest winning streak ever assembled by an American champion, Zenyatta is not a media star in the mainstream.

This is unfortunate. Zenyatta has a monstrous charisma. She remains unbeaten. She has the potential to bring attention to the best aspects of racing. She is every dream come true.

In the afterglow of the Vanity, there is no set plan for the remainder of Zenyatta's campaign toward a third Breeders' Cup. Trainer John Shirreffs has mentioned the possibility of an autumn race at Belmont Park, but there is no better showcase for this mare than Saratoga, where the summer meeting presents two opportunities -- the Aug.1 Ruffian, which would afford the advantage of time for a final prep at Belmont before the Breeders' Cup, and the Aug. 29 Personal Ensign.

Saratoga is the scene of the most broadly exposed race meeting on the American calendar, an appropriate stage for a superstar. Should her connections chose this path and Zenyatta find herself opposed in one of these races by Rachel Alexandra: perfect.

Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He has also been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at pmoran1686@aol.com.

• Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award among several other industry honors. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby.
• You can email him at pmoran1686@aol.com