2009 Eclipse Award Winners Rachel Alexandra wins Horse of the Year over Zenyatta
by Kenneth Strong of Predictem.com
Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly at the 39th annual Eclipse Awards on Monday, January 18, 2009 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California – but was she the right choice for 2009 Horse of the Year?
The voters, members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the Daily Racing Form (DRF) and the National Turf Writers Association (NTWA), seem to think so it wasnt even close. Rachel Alexandra defeated Zenyatta on their votes by a score of 130-99. But what would have happened if the two superstars had actually raced against each other?
We think Zenyatta would have won.
That takes nothing away from Rachel Alexandra, the best 3-year-old filly weve seen since the late great Queen of the Fillies Ruffian in 1974-75. Rachel Alexandra did things no 3-year-old filly has ever done she dominated males in three Grade 1 races. And she did it the hard way twice – battling for the lead on a fast pace, shaking off her opposition and then digging in gamely to hold off the ralliers in both the Preakness against 3-year-olds and in the Woodward against older horses. Among those she defeated were Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Champion-3-Year-Old Male Summer Bird. Three-year-old fillies just dont do that in North America.
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In a perfect 8-for-8 season under jockey Calvin Borel,
the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro-Lotta Kim by Roar overwhelmed members of
her own sex in Grade 1 filly races before beating males, winning the Mother
Goose by 19 1/4-lengths and the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4. She also won the
Grade 2 Fantasy, the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and the Martha Washington.
Rachel Alexandra won on both sloppy and fast dirt tracks at distances from
a mile to a mile and three-sixteenths. Her best Beyer Speed Figure of 116
was recorded over a sloppy track in the Haskell Invitational. But theres
Rachel Alexandra was the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years and the first 3-year-old filly to win Horse of the Year Honors since Twilight Tear in 1944.
Developed by trainer Hal Wiggins for owners Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer, Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables after her Kentucky Oaks win and was trained for the remainder of the season by Steve Asmussen, who won the 2009 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.
The only knock against Rachel Alexandra, if you can even call it that, was that she declined to participate in the 2009 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita. Disappointed by the performance of his previous Horse of the Year winner Curlin in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, owner Jess Jackson wanted no part of that track’s synthetic surface for Rachel Alexandra. She stayed home.
That meant Zenyatta had a shot at the 2009 Horse of the Year Title – if she could become the first female in history to win the Breeders Cup Classic. And win she did!
We have to admit, we didnt give Zenyatta much of a shot to win the 2009 Classic, despite her perfect 13-for-13 record over two years. We thought she had been beating up on average females throughout her career. In 2009, the big rangy throwback daughter of Street Cry-Vertgineux by Kris S. won four Grade 1 races prior to the Classic, all in California, and all on synthetic surfaces. She took the Milady and Vanity Handicaps at Hollywood, the Hirsch at Del Mar and the Ladys Secret at Santa Anita. When you include her Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, Zenyatta won at distances from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and a quarter.
Beautifully managed by trainer John Shirreffs for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta recorded her highest 2009 Beyer Speed Figure of 112 in the Breeders Cup Classic BUT she did it easily.
If you were to put Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra in a match race, Rachel Alexandra would likely have the edge regardless of surface, because of her speed. Thats not to say Zenyatta couldnt be trained to show just as much speed as Rachel Alexandra, but Zenyattas habit of racing from well off the pace would be otherwise unlikely to change. Lone speed wins more than its share on dirt, but can also win on synthetic. Slight edge to Rachel Alexandra, but were not convinced Zenyatta couldnt get up to win.
If you put Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra in a full field of 12 tough older male rivals, we think Zenyatta would have the edge regardless of surface. Great undefeated horses find a way to win. They overcome the odds. And while some would claim that the field behind Zenyatta in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic was second rate, we dont agree. There were some tough, very fit, Grade 1 winners in the Classic, and not only did Zenyatta only have to run a few hundred yards to beat them after a perfect ride by Mike Smith, she had something left at the wire. That was impressive.
Trying to imagine different scenarios in an effort to decide who was the better horse in 2009 – what would happen if you inserted Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta into those tough European turf races won by the best horse in the world in 2009, Sea the Stars. The 2009 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe featured 19 runners, nine of them Group 1 winners, going a mile and a half over turf. Sea the Stars won that race with something left. Rachel Alexandra wouldnt have had a chance in that race. Zenyatta might have earned a piece of the purse with her traditional rally.
While Rachel Alexandras performances in 2009 were historically among the best ever seen by a 3-year-old filly, Zenyatta impressed us even more with her win in the Breeders Cup Classic. As a separator, imagine what would happen if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta met each other in a series of three races, one on dirt, one on synthetic and one on turf, at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter, with full fields of Grade 1 winners. I think Zenyatta would defeat Rachel Alexandra in at least two of the three races, and possibly all of them.
Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra have secured their place among the all-time great thoroughbreds, but Zenyatta would have been our choice for 2009 Horse of the Year. Based on her Breeders’ Cup Classic win, we may not have seen the best of her yet. And we think she could win anywhere, at any distance, over any surface, while facing tough, fit, Group 1 and Grade 1 winners.
If we’re lucky, we might just find out for sure in 2010.
2009 Eclipse Award Winners
Horse of the Year – Rachel Alexandra
3-Year-Old Filly – Rachel Alexandra
Older Filly – Zenyatta.
3-Year-Old – Summer Bird
Older Male – Gio Ponti
2-Year-Old Filly – She Be Wild.
2-Year-Old – Lookin at Lucky
Male Sprinter – Kodiak Kowboy
Female Sprinter – Informed Decision.
Turf Male – Gio Ponti
Turf Female Goldikova
Steeplechaser – Mixed Up.
Breeder – Juddmonte Farms
Trainer – Steve Asmussen
Jockey – Julien Leparoux
Apprentice Jockey – C Santiago Reyes
Owner – Godolphin Racing