Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Classic Key

This racing season has been nothing short of bizarre. No real three year old star emerged during the drama of Triple Crown season, leaving many wondering just how strong this crop really is. The sprint division is also a muddle picture as the second half of the year progresses, with several with the talent to take the lead, but have yet to step up and actually do something.

The other side of the coin presents the public with the promise of some of the best to be seen in quite some time. The male turf division has a promising contender in Get Serious, while the fillies and mares have Tuscan Evening, Proviso, and Forever Together. Quality Road, Blame and Rail Trip have already given fans something to get excited about this year, displaying limitless talent.

The Older Filly and Mare division is as strong as ever, presenting us with exciting new talents like Unrivaled Belle, Life at Ten, and Funny Moon. These three, however exciting they may be, look they they will be playing second fiddle to Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. This is where the bizarre comes into play.

Two time Older Female Champion, Zenyatta seems to be following the same conservative path that she has taken the last two years, leading up to the Classic. Though her owners promised a much more challenging campaign when they brought her back, not many were surprised to see their owners go back on their word. While Zenyatta is not welcoming bigger and better challenges is a disappointment, the bazaar award goes to the reigning Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.

There is no denying that everyone expected her to decimate the field in her first start back. When she was upset by Zardana, surprising as it was, people pointed towards the fact she had been out of training for 5 months and was rushed to get back into shape. This led us to the conclusion that she would come back in her next start as the Rachel of Old. Once again, Rachel Alexandra let down the expectations of her fan, finishing second by a head to Unrivalled Belle.

After two disappointments it was easy to understand why Jess Jackson sought out a weaker field in the Fleur de Lis. The race serve it's purpose perhaps boosting the confidence of not only Rachel and her fans, but her owner as well. After her dominating win, we all expected the superstar to return to Saratoga in the Ruffian, or at the very least come to Delaware Park for the Delaware Handicap. Those predictions couldn't have been further from the truth, when Jess Jackson announced that Rachel Alexandra would contest at Monmouth Park in the Lady's Secret Stakes.

As it stands, Rachel has three starts with two seconds and one win. She has but one graded stakes win and if she were to win the Lady's Secret she would still have only one graded stakes win. Likely targets after the Lady's Secret could be the Personal Ensign and Beldame. This kind of schedule tells me one thing, Jess Jackson is not worried about anything other than the Breeders Cup this year.

Last year the only other horse with a shot at Horse of the Year was Zenyatta, who only had one big moment. This year is quite different. This year Quality Road, Blame, Rail Trip, and Zenyatta all have shots at Horse of the Year, which means if all continue their winning ways there will be only one race that decides the ultimate, end of the year award. The Breeders Cup Classic.

If Rachel were to win he next three races, especially the Personal Ensign and Beldame convincingly, she would put herself in position to take it all in the Classic. Of course she will have to get past the top older males, Zenyatta and maybe even some of the late blooming three year olds, but that is exactly why Jackson is choosing to slowly build Rachel Alexandra up, instead of running a re-run of 2009. The Classic is the key this year, and Jackson knows it.


  1. People shouldn't be disappointed in Rachel's two losses. While the filly may still become what she was last year, in terms of her dominating form, I have my doubts this will happen, no matter how good her speed figures or clockings have been. When a three-year-old filly is asked to do what Rachel did last year, it's reasonable that she may be a little past her prime. This doesn't mean she still won't have a great four-year-old season, but I personally don't expect her to duplicate what she did last year. If she does, great, but Zenyatta is still around, and the older male division is stronger than last year to. And I would be surprised if she ran against males before the BC. No need to do that, and she might have to be all out to beat them, which might compromise her BC, assuming she goes in the Classic and not the Ladies' Classic. Pull out all the stops when it counts the most. I also think a few of the three-year-old males like Lookin At Lucky, possibly Drosselmeyer, et al, could be better by then as well.

    I agree with you about the Breeders' Cup Classic. While I'm only guessing, I believe this is the ultimate goal for Rachel, and if she is successful from here on out, and wins the BC, that's undoubtedly a second consecutive HOY title for her. And think what that would mean to Jackson: four consecutive years with two of his own horses hauling in back-to-back titles. Wow!

  2. I hate to be nitpicking here (because it's a good article) but I think the word you're looking for is "bizarre" not "bazaar." Just for future reference.

    Anyway, back to the subject at hand, I think Rachel has some catching up to do if she wants to beat out Quality Road for Horse of the Year. If she dominates in her next starts, and then wins the Classic, then I'd say she pretty much has it. But the Classic is going to be a very tough challenge, with Zenyatta, Quality Road, Rail Trip, Blame. It'll be quite the race.

  3. Jasmine,

    You are fine, If anyone catches something grammatical theny I'd love to know as soon as possible. I actually had the correct spelling of the word the first time, but I pulled up spell check and it said it was the other way. I have changed it thanks to you and another friend's showing. Thank you.

    RA must win her next few starts and do it convincingly to win HOTY. A wins in the PE and Beldame would prove she is back to her old self and that a win in the Classic was no fluke. Now, JJ could run her in the JCGC, since QR may not be there and there is not that much speed in the hadicapp division that can go 10 furlongs. However, I see the PE and Beldame as more likely targets. The Classic wil be a tough race for every horse there. The winner, shall it be one of the current big five, will be very deserving of HOTY.

  4. John,

    I think she could regain her form. Her two races were very good races, even though they were ran in defeat. Look what that effort did to UB and Zardana in their next starts. UB was still a factor in the Phipps, but there is no doubt that the LT took something out of her, IMO.

    Also if RA does regain form and win the Classic, JJ might be sitting pretty with two BC winners and two Eclipse Award winners. Kantharos looked amazing yesterday, and is definitley worth keeping an eye on.

  5. I don't why anyone thinks Rachel has a shot at HoY no matter what she does from here on out.

    The politics of the award simply will not allow it.

  6. TV,

    It's not like she has disgraced herself in her two losses this year, both were good effort, and close calls against a couple of decent fillies. If she were to follow up her FDL win with three more wins in this race, the PE and Beldame, in convincing style then HOTY would not be out of the question if she were to win the Classic, beating RT, QR, Zen and Blame.

  7. I'm inclined to feel Rachel's next race after the Lady's Secret will be the Personal Ensign, so she can try 10 furlongs, which she'll have to contest in the BC Classic. After the PE, I can't see her running in the JCGC and go 10 furlongs again, then go in the 10 furlong BC Classic. That would be three consecutive races at 1 1/4 miles, with the last two against males. I don't expect her to face males again until the BC Classic, assuming she's going in that race.

    If Rachel indicates she doesn't want 10 furlongs, Jackson needs to decide about the Ladies' Classic instead. If she goes in that one, she virtually has no chance for HOY, unless some horse other than one of the favorites wins the Classic. That is unlikely with Quality Road, Blame, Zenyatta, and possibly Rail Trip in the mix. If Rachel regains her form of last year, great; if she doesn't, that's perfectly fine to. She's done plenty already, but I admit it would be nice if she took the BC Classic, and silence a lot of her detractors, who've been on her case ever since Zenyatta won the race last year. But I have no gripe with Zenyatta, and I love her to.

    My gut feeling is that the two most formidible American racers to go in the Classic--at least at this point in time--are Quality Road and Zenyatta, with Blame, Rachel, and possibly Rail Trip closely following.

  8. John,

    I agree with you on RA racing in the JCGC. I'm only saying that it would be, IMO the race with the highest chance of seeing her against males, before the Classic. This is due to the fact QR may not be there, elimating the main speed for her.

    I actually think RA will relish 10 furlongs, if Borel is allowed to ride her to her liking. What I mean by that is, Borel is not afraid of being ambushed if RA doesn't get the lead, like he was in the Preakness and Woodward, having her take the heat of some quick fractions. If he feels comfortable, and lets her find her own rythem, like she did in the Haskell, Oaks, and MG, then she will cruise. Her high cruising speed is an asset that is dangerous. She has proven that she does not need the lead and will only take it when pushed or there is no other speed. Basically, if Borel lets her do her thing, she'll be fine.

    I also agree with the fact that if RA goes in the LC there is no shot at all for HOTY, none.

  9. I'm just curious why a mare running in glorified allowance races would win HOY just by winning the Classic when you amongst many others were saying that one race didn't justify Zenyatta winning it. Strange.
    Give Asmussen time, he'll ruin the 2 year old.

  10. Anon,

    As of now, she should not be considered, but you seem to have forgotten that there is more months left in the year. We are only a little over halfway through. I heard that this is supposed to be a prep for the PE. If she remains on the 5 week plan, a few other races she could run in, after the PE, are the Beldame, JCGC and Flower Bowl, all are Grade ones. The Beldame, will likely featur LAT, UB, and Funny Moon as will the PE, and those horse are anything but weak. She could end up facing Blame in the Gold Cup and maybe even RT, again, not a weak bunch at all. The Flower Bowl, is the least likely of the three races, but a race over turf would give her another dimension than not many other horses have right now. Those any combo of the PE with those three races added with a Classic would be enough to give her HOTY.