Rachel Alexandra & Zenyatta: The Race that Must Go On

Last Updated: February 6th, 2010 by Adam Markowitz (Bankroll Sports Columnist)

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Long before there was gambling on the Super Bowl or NBA basketball or Major League Baseball, there was horse racing. For thousands of years, gamblers have been banking on which horse could run a certain distance or a certain track the fastest. Things have gotten a lot more sophisticated for the “Sports of Kings” in the last four millennia, but the news for the equestrian world has been grim over the last several years.

News out of New York in December was the worst of all. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) may be in a position where it can’t make payroll, which could effectively shut down the storied Belmont Racetrack, as well as all of the other racing circuits in the Empire State. The Triple Crown would never be the same again, as the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, would be compromised.

Every year, it feels like horse racing is ready to take off once again behind a new story and a new super horse. But alas, every year, the winner of the Kentucky Derby has fallen in one of the next two Triple Crown races. The sport hasn’t had an icon win its most illustrious three jewels since Affirmed did it in 1978.

Enter Zenyatta, the super filly who has successfully won all 14 races in her career, including the Breeder’s Cup Classic at Santa Anita last year over horses such as Mine That Bird (who won the Kentucky Derby), Summer Bird (who won the Belmont Stakes), and Colonel John. That made her the first filly ever to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Zenyatta finished runner-up for Horse of the Year honors in 2009, but was also finished second to Serena Williams for the AP’s Female Athlete of the Year last year to boot.

However, even though Zenyatta has all of the accolades in the world, there’s still one horse that she hasn’t conquered.

See Rachel Alexandra, who was the filly that bested all of the boys and Zenyatta for the Horse of the Year award in 2009. She was the only Triple Crown race winner that wasn’t in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, because her owners didn’t want to see her run on the synthetic track at Santa Anita. Rachel Alexandra marched into Pimlico last year as a favorite over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and put both him and the rest of his mare counterparts to shame by taking the Preakness Stakes just two weeks after walking away from the rest of the field in the Kentucky Oaks by a whopping 20 lengths. That made her the first filly in 85 years to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.

How is it possible to separate two unbeaten horses? Experts have clamored all year about the prospects of seeing a Rachel/Zenyatta duel, and now, someone has come to the table with the money to make it happen. Oaklawn Park is offering a $5 million purse for a prospective race between the top horses in the sport.

The art and sport of horse racing clearly needs a superstar. Neither the six-year old Zenyatta nor the four-year old Rachel Alexandra can successfully do it by themselves, especially since their races will largely go unnoticed outside of the Breeders Cup. But with the Kentucky Derby just looming a month after the prospective race between these two behemoths, it may be just the kick needed to get horse racing back on the map.

As sports betting fans, we should all be dying to see this happen before it’s too late. It’s often that you get to see any matchup between two unbeaten people, horses, or teams, especially not ones that have been so dominant and look totally unflappable.

The race, as they say, must go on.

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Posted in Horse Racing - Last Updated on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 @ 2:47 pm (EST)
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