Like all racing fans, I would have enjoyed seeing Rachel Alexandra meet Zenyatta last year, particularly in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and have the same feeling this year. However, if I were the owner of one of them I might take a different view. My goal would be to maximize the value of my filly or mare.

Following is my mostly unemotional, analytical assessment of how I would privately see things if I were Jess Jackson and owned Rachel Alexandra or, alternatively, were Jerome Moss and owned Zenyatta. What I say publicly might well contain some spin on what I really think deep down.

The Behind-the-Scenes Jess Jackson Perspective

I count my blessings that Rachel was voted Horse of the Year in 2009, given that Zenyatta was the first mare to win the Breeders’Cup Classic. I did not take Rachel to Santa Anita because of the synthetic surface, and especially I did not want her to compete against Zenyatta at 1 1-4 miles, and have to ship across country to an unfamiliar environment with a three-hour time differential that could have really thrown her off schedule. Curlin’s defeat the previous year at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Classic weighed heavily on my decision.

I knew that I would be accused of ducking Jerry’s mare, but that is criticism I was willing to take, particularly since Rachel’s undefeated performance in 2009 was so outstanding that I realized she could probably win in the voting for Horse of the Year without going to California. Wins in the Preakness and Woodward evidently persuaded enough Eclipse voters, especially because, candidly, many of them tend to have a bias for East-Coast runners.

I waited until 2010 to go to the Breeders’ Cup with Rachel, when Zenyatta would either be retired or a year older and hopefully have diminished skills. In 2009, taking on a 5-year-old with my 3-year-old was conceding too much maturity, and, remember, the 5-year-old was a phenom on her home turf.

My present concern, in late August 2010, is that, while Rachel is regaining some of her last year’s form–she won her two previous starts after finishing second twice–she does not quite seem to be her old self. I can’t say for sure, but I have a gnawing feeling, call it intuition, that Rachel is not at her best and may never be as strong as she was in 2009.

I definitely do not want to hook Zenyatta and colts like Blame and Quality Road at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at a mile and a quarter, even if it is on the dirt. That might be an eighth of a mile too far against formidable competition. I know Rachel won the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs by a country mile in 2009, but that was against 3-year-old fillies. I can imagine Rachel and Zenyatta both getting beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against the colts, and then what have we accomplished? What would we gain if Rachel, say, comes in third and Zenyatta fourth? Nothing.

My most likely course of action for Rachel will be to give her an additional start–after the Personal Ensign–prior to the Breeders’ Cup and then opt for the Ladies’ Classic. This race puts her on dirt at 1 1/8 miles against fillies and mares. There is a lot to be said for the old racetrack adage to keep yourself in the best of company and your horses in the worst of company.

If the Zenyatta connections decide to put their girl in the Ladies’ Classic in order to provoke a showdown, I am not altogether confident that Rachel can beat her–nothing is certain in horse racing–but I feel pretty good about our chances; Zenyatta likely cannot get up to win at that distance, unless there is a blistering pace. In addition, my best guess is that, while Zenyatta’s connections will cross enter her in the Ladies’ Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, they will in the end elect to put her in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. How do you bypass the biggest race on the card after winning it last year? You don’t, as I see it.

My strategy won’t get Rachel Horse of the Year for 2010, but we won it last year and I’ll still be able to claim, and rightly so, that she belongs in any conversation about the top fillies and mares of all time. Rachel could use a Breeders’ Cup win on her resume, as more icing on the cake, and the Ladies’ Classic is the best way to get it before she goes off for a date with a fast and handsome stallion early next year. The $1.2 million winner’s share of the purse would add nicely to her lifetime earnings. The only downside is if she were to get embarrassed in the Ladies’ Classic.

The racing press and the fans will howl when I announce that Rachel will not be taking on Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but so be it…I am doing what I know is best for my filly.

I’ll consult Steve (Asmussen), of course, as we go along about what he thinks. He knows Rachel better than anyone and, if he gives the green light for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, believes we have a great chance to win, I might change my mind. Let’s see how dominant she is in the Personal Ensign a week from now. She’s got to win that race convincingly.

The Behind-the-Scenes Jerome Moss Perspective

After Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009, I was pretty burned up that she was denied Horse of the Year, but, of course, I did not show that publicly. In my view, Jess Jackson was scared to confront our mare, which is why he did not bring her to Santa Anita. But I confess that I might have done the same thing if I were in his shoes.

The Breeders’ Cup bills its year-end race extravaganza as the “World Championships.” If that is so, why wasn’t the Classic winner also Horse of the Year in her own country? To digress slightly, where does this leave Sea the Stars in the pecking order? This “World Championships”  label is mostly hyperbole, I’d say. Hong Kong also claims to have the “World Turf Championships.” Let’s not turn racing into the WWE or boxing.

The powers that be need to install a point system for Horse of the Year so that owners know where they stand and what they have to do to increase their chances.

Out West here, we think that there is a condescending attitude in the Eastern Thoroughbred establishment that if you don’t win at Belmont and Saratoga, you are not fully legitimate. I am told that when Swaps beat Nashua in the Kentucky Derby way back in 1955, the Eastern press wrote it off as a fluke. When Nashua smoked a hurting Swaps in the winner-take-all match race in the late summer of 1955, the New York sports writers acted as though the planets were back in proper alignment. Sunday Silence got a better reception coming off the Left Coast in 1989, mainly because he was partly owned by Arthur Hancock, but even there Easy Goer was looked upon by the Eastern establishment as the Nashua of his day. They never really accepted that Sunday Silence was better, even though he was three for four against Easy Goer.

Your horses’ credentials are suspect if he or she is a West-of-the-Rockies runner. I chose not to fall for the bait to bring Zenyatta to Saratoga for the Personal Ensign on August 29. There was no need to do so–if we can win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, all will be forgotten and our mare will be voted Horse of the Year.

I can run Zenyatta in the Ladies’ Classic or the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from the former and, in fact, there is much to lose. If we beat Rachel Alexandra, that will not ensure that my mare will be Horse of the Year. Yet if Jess’ filly beats us, she will be declared to be the better racehorse—and “they” will say she was all along.

The Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic is a trap race for us, everything to lose and not much to gain. Moreover, between you and me, I harbor doubts that Zenyatta can beat Rachel–or even a couple of the other fillies and mares–at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. My mare needs that extra furlong.

If Zenyatta is to get beat, let it be by males on the dirt at 1 ¼ miles. We can always live with the fact that she shipped across country, took on males on dirt at a classic distance, maybe on a cold and bitter day to boot, and lost her only race ever. And there is a good chance that she can close to beat Blame, Quality Road, and the others, and join Tiznow as the only two-time winner of the Classic.

John (Shirreffs) has done a masterful job of keeping my mare on top of her game for several years. If he says she is fit and ready, we will take on anybody’s horse at any venue…as long as it is at least at a mile and a quarter.

Will It Be Logic or Emotion?

You might argue with my thinking, and please have at it. However, if my business-oriented logic prevails, look for Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. On the other hand, if the sportsman side of Jess Jackson prevails over the business side and he decides to throw caution to the wind and go for it all–increasing the risk that Rachel Alexandra will not ever have a Breeders’ Cup win to her credit–Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will take on their male counterparts in the Breeders’ Cup finale. Barring injury or illness, both of these great gals should be in Louisville.

(Thanks to Messrs. Jackson and Moss for leaving these exciting racehorses in training. You both have the best interest of racing at heart.)

Copyright ©2010 Horse Racing Business


  1. Very nice article!

  2. One more Jerry Moss thought…
    Everyone loves Zenyatta, I should find a couple more weak fields to beat and retire 20-0 and pretend she is the greatest ever.

  3. Very well thought out and very well written. One more Jerry Moss thought…. I can’t wait to see how much better Zenyatta is on the Churchill dirt…

  4. Classic:

    This dumb thing shows up under:

    “IF I owned Rachel or Alexandra”

    on Equidaily.com.

    Which basically underscores the massive eastern media dilusionary thinking that garnered so much as a single HOY vote for Rachel Alexandra.

    One either researched his/her vote appropriately and in depth, OR he/she voted for Rachel Alexandra.

    No common sensical person could conclude otherwise.

  5. Right on the money with this article. Very creative. Thanks.

  6. “…I harbor doubts that Zenyatta can beat Rachel, or even a couple of fillies and mares at a mile and 1/8…”

    Your story was ok until I read this part.

    No, I seriously that harbor any doubts whats so ever of losing to Rachel Alexandra and any or other female racehorse going this distance.

    Zenyatta is a perfect 9 for 9 at a mile and 1/16 with two track records, two tied track records and came with 1/5 of a second of breaking the Apple Blossom Stakes record for this distance.

    Zenyatta is a perfect 6 for 6 at a mile and an eighth tying the track record in the BC Ladies Classic, and carrying 129 lbs twice at this distance and 127 lbs. once at this distance.

    Seriously, can anyone have any doubts?

  7. Blind Luck might beat them both?

  8. I think Rachel, on top of her game, is one of the best ever. However, Lookin at Lucky is probably the most under-rated horses in America. It is my hope to see Rachel and him in top form at Churchill. SN jeske

  9. Anderson–
    Regardless of your opinion, Rachel Alexandra was fully deserving of her HOY vote–she campaigned all over the country, won important stakes in 6 different states and had the greatest campaign a 3-year-old filly has EVER had–undefeated, beating colts 3 times (including the Preakness and older horses in the Woodward). After that, she was spent and deserved a break… Running in one state mostly against fillies doesn’t consistitute a HOY campaign, even if Zenyatta was able to beat a relatively weak field of mostly turf horses in the BC Classic…

  10. John –
    Zenyatta owns no track records, nor has she tied any track or stakes records. She has the fastest synth time for the Hirsch last year but that time is slower than the fastest Hirsch which was run on dirt.

  11. Nancy Nancy Nancy – You are the type of ignorant person who looks at records in a vacuum. Girlfriend, think 1919 to 1920 in MLB baseball, with Babe Ruth (leading the league in home runs both years) going from 29 to 54 home runs (and every logical person recognizes that statistic reflected the end of the “dead ball” era in baseball). It’s that simple. Imagine Secretariat going from synthetic or even turf to dirt. But here’s what I think….Zenyatta will need a fast track and Quality Road to make it to the BC Classic (I have a feeling he won’t make it there), but if he does, he’ll be sent and ensure a fast pace, and if he runs (and doesn’t get freaked out by a field of more than 8 at the starting gate…which will probably make him more like to go fast early)…good night now. Zenyatta.

  12. Before you say it, Quality Road is no Holy Bull. Holy Bull didn’t get passed by Concern, even though the Bull went 110 and change. What did QR go for 6 panels?? Stop the anti-West coast bias. Stop it Crist. Stop it Watchmaker. And most of all, Stop it Beyer…BTW, Andy, how many Beyer figures from synthetics have correctly figured on dirt stakes races?? And before you start with Blame, he is one-paced and you know it. Ironically, the best shot to beat Zenyatta is the synthecally trained LAL.

  13. Great article, very even-handed.
    My take: Having seen Zenyatta race here in California, I can say with absolute certainty that she has never shown us her best. She’s just starting to really roll when she crosses the wire. Track records are virtually meaningless, given that, because she’s never had to go all out to get to the wire first… from waaaay behind.
    John Shirreffs says Zenyatta actually PREFERS dirt. She’s certainly won over dirt, twice, easily, without really being asked.
    My hope is that she’ll finally get to show us what she’s really got in the Classic this year at Churchill Downs.
    Rachel won’t face her. She’ll run in the Ladies Classic, IF she goes to Breeder’s Cup at all. She’s not the same horse as last year. She couldn’t beat Zenyatta now, no way.
    Would love to see the match-up, though.

  14. Zenyatta will never run in the slop. EVER
    She only ran against the males 1 time after an easy season.
    If you get rid of Assmussin. Rachel may come back to her old self. They tried to control her with the 8 bit, having her pull all the way and hope she would become a come from behind horse. She was perfect, and they made her just above average. Sickening!

  15. Rachel in the Haskell, in the slop was unbelievable. The 13 post at Preakness was astounding. Then the Woodward was heart stopping. The Oaks was just fun.
    Rachel had a target on her back in most of the races. problem was they could never get in front of her and when they tried running at her with rabbits she just ran faster!
    I love Rachel and Calvin. Hate Assmussen .