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By Thomas Chambers
If you really analyze it, Mister Ed did not get along with Wilbur Post. He barely suffered the architect, and it was usually with good reason. Wilbur was pretty thin in the brains department and never let Ed have any fun.
I'm not sure who besides us mucking horseplayers care whether Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta is named horse of the year in the Eclipse Award voting for 2009, but I'm willing to predict that this story may spill at least a little bit into the mainstream media. I would love to hear what Zenyatta and Rachel think about the whole thing, and I bet it would center around something like "Let's race, and find out who's better."
But as John Wayne once famously said, this thing is getting ri-goddamn-diculous.
The most recent bit of foolishness was the decision by the Oak Tree Racing Association, a self-important group of horsemen that rents Santa Anita Park each Autumn and has hosted the last two Breeders' Cup festivals, to change the name of the Grade I Lady's Secret Stakes to the Zenyatta Stakes, beginning next year.
Oak Tree and Santa Anita are making a brazen attempt to make Zenyatta their own, based on her tremendous victory Nov. 7 in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and coupled with her win in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic in 2008, also at Santa Anita. On Sunday, Hollywood Park, which decrees itself Zenyatta's home track, paraded her between the seventh and eighth races to the adoration of thousands of fans, Governor Terminator, and Jerry and Ann Moss, her owners who may well have brought upon themselves a heap of bad karma by agreeing to unseat Lady's Secret. The sycophants on the TVG horse racing network, who declared Zenyatta the greatest horse of all time just seconds after the Classic became official, continued their idolatry all afternoon.
Santa Anita itself will stage a similar parade on opening day of its winter meet later this month. These kinds of tribute parades are common, but does this mean Zenyatta will have statues at both tracks?
Let me put it this way: Are Jim Bottomley and Mark Whiten the greatest baseball players who ever lived because they both hold the record for 12 RBIs in one game?
I agree, Zenyatta is truly a great race horse, one of the best females of all time and holder of a perfect 14-0 record. But I believe she did not put together the kind of spectacular, diverse campaign in 2009 that Rachel Alexandra did.
It gets even worse. Oak Tree's truly crass and tasteless behavior is also aimed at influencing the Eclipse Award voting in Zenyatta's favor. Sez who? Why, Oak Tree, that's who!
The Daily Racing Form's Steve Crist quotes the Oak Tree press release: " 'We feel strongly that Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year," said Sherwood Chillingsworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president, in an over-the-top press release that began, "In the wake of what many consider to be the most dramatic performance in Breeders' Cup history . . .' "
With spot-on, justified sarcasm, Bloodhorse.com's Steve Haskin sets a scene: "Can't you picture Santa Anita officials getting together immediately after the Breeders' Cup Classic and having a discussion similar to this? Hey, we better come up with a race named after Zenyatta before Del Mar renames the Clement Hirsch the Zenyatta or Hollywood Park renames the Vanity the Zenyatta."
Hard to say if this kind of audacity will turn sentiment against Zenyatta, but it is childish, selfish behavior with not a minute's forethought for the history and integrity of the game, designed only to gain a "marketing edge" and future profits in a sport being severely harmed by just these kids of actions by just these kinds of people. Zenyatta deserves a Grade I stakes named for her, but create one or upgrade a different race for her.
Maybe it's because California sometimes has trouble scraping together five horses for "big races." So it cannibalizes itself.
So what's the big beef, you ask? Let's look at Lady's Secret.
In just this paragraph, we see the antithesis of Zenyatta's career, and her 2009 campaign. She stayed home in California all year (she did travel to Churchill Downs to race in the Louisville Distaff on Kentucky Oaks Day in May the day before the Kentucky Derby, but scratched because of muddy/sloppy track conditions), beating up on the same horses while being pointed to peaking on one day, November 7. I dare say Lady's Secret was a better race horse than Zenyatta.
Rachel Alexandra traveled and raced on dirt and mud and slop and beat her fellow three-year-old females, three-year-old males and older males, as I've recounted.
Rachel Alexandra's owner, wine titan Jess Jackson, speaking like a confident horse owner with billions of dollars in his pocket, put on an I-don't-really-care air in discussing the award: Asked why Rachel Alexandra might prevail in the Horse of the Year vote, Jackson said: "You can't worry about what's in the hands of others, but I think she'll win. If they consider the facts, she'll win."
I also laugh at those, including seasoned horseplayers, who argue that Zenyatta beat a "world-class" field of the "top horses in the world." I'd never win on Make Me Laugh.
Here's my breakdown of Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup Classic field:
* Mine That Bird, best races on a different kind of synthetic or dirt and not in good form
* Colonel John, subpar because he has a hard time finishing even in California
* Summer Bird, probably a dirt horse
* Twice Over, I don't believe 100% that turf equals synthetic, but he ran well anyway
* Richard's Kid, didn't fire, overrated?, inconsistent
* Gio Ponti, heart of a lion but had already clunked on this course in the Strub
* Einstein, great heart, a bit inconsistent, past his prime?
* Giralamo, inexperienced, no synthetic races coming in, next year for him
* Rip Van Winkle, the biggest disappointment but, still, no synthetic experience
* Regal Ransom, give me a break
* Quality Road, who knows how he might have run?
* Awesome Gem, give me a break and dismal on synthetic
This is not even the best Classic field I've seen.
This situation can partly be blamed on the introduction of synthetic racing surfaces and how the "plastic" has fragmented the Thoroughbred game. It would have to be easier to set up a match (and I don't mean match race - we don't need another Ruffian) between Rachel and Zenyatta with only which dirt track to decide on. Think these two beauties wouldn't love to race each other?
Don't get me wrong. I love Zenyatta and the great BC Classic she gave us. I'll remember it always.
It's these modern Wilbur Posts, her connections and the knothead Oak Tree people I don't like.
Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. He welcomes your comments.
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