A clear majority in unscientific online polls favors Zenyatta. The seeming inevitability of most of her wins and her fanatical following support her candidacy. But that feeling probably is influenced by the recency of her dramatic, last-to-first victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
On the other hand, a large minority hold to the view that Rachel Alexandra sewed up the crown with victories in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward long before majority owner Jess Jackson decreed she would not run in the Breeders' Cup. Watching replays of those races now renews the feeling.
Many have suggested the title be divided, that neither deserves to lose. Barring an unlikely tie vote, that's not going to happen.
But really -- what should be the criteria?
Both had undefeated seasons. Rachel Alexandra gets the nod for showing up at more different tracks and winning more races -- eight to Zenyatta's five. On the other hand, in the Classic, Zenyatta beat the best field assembled anywhere in North America this year -- clearly a better bunch than any Rachel Alexandra faced.
For many, the decision will come down to the race that wasn't -- the head-to-head encounter between the two superstars. Zenyatta didn't come east to take on Rachel Alexandra. And Rachel Alexandra didn't head west to face Zenyatta.
But those decisions aren't equal. The Haskell and the Woodward, important as they are, have become preps for the title match -- the Breeders' Cup Classic. The decision by owners Jerry and Ann Moss not to send Zenyatta to those races was a tactical one, not strategic.
The strategic decision was the Mosses' election to roll the dice for the highest possible stakes. They came up seven (or, in this case 14). Jackson elected to pass the dice.
That deprived the racing world of the kind of showdown that defines the sport. For no other reason, Zenyatta is likely to be Horse of the Year -- and will get my vote. Heck, I voted for her last year.
And by the way, Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds and Sam Houston all are offering to host races with substantial purses if Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra want to meet early in 2010 -- presumably in a last race for Zenyatta. It's too bad that's unlikely. Such a race might decide 2010 Horse of the Year very early.
In weekend racing:
The local team is fired up for next month's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races. Collection, winner of last year's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, dominated Sunday's International Cup Trial, winning off by 2 lengths over Unique Jewellery. Mr Medici was third and the favorites, Thumbs Up and Viva Pataca, settled for fourth and seventh, respectively. Winning trainer John Moore said he feared a too-brisk recent workout might have jeopardized Collection's chances in the Trial. "I felt the edge might have been taken off him," Moore said with relief. "What a turn of foot he has! He is going in the right direction for the Cup and I expect he will be the one to beat." Moore also trains Viva Pataca and said that old warrior got too far back in Sunday's effort. "But he will be a big chance in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase next month. He will definitely be in the first three then," Moore prophesied. The Hong Kong Jockey Club also celebrated its 125th anniversary Sunday at Sha Tin as Always Something was up in the final strides to beat the favorite, Taverner, in the 125th Anniversary Cup. In addition to overseeing racing in Hong Kong, the Jockey Club is the city's major non-government community benefactor, donating more than HK$1 billion (U.S. $129 million) annually to charitable and community causes.
At Kyoto Racecourse in Japan, Queen Spumante won Sunday's Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in front-running fashion and at long odds. TM Precure was second and Buena Vista finished third with a belated rush. Shalanaya, based in France and winner of the Prix de l'Opera in her last outing, finished fourth. Queen Spumante, a 5-year-old daughter of Jungle Rocket, now has six wins from 21 career starts.
Mary's Follies led a trio of upsetters across the finish line in Saturday's $175,000 Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies as the favorite, Hot Cha Cha, was working her way through traffic. Mary's Follies, with Kent Desormeaux handling the reins, saved ground while stalking the pace early in the race, got out with a furlong to run and got home first, 1 1/2 lengths better than Keertana. Romacaca was third and Hot Cha Cha, after finally getting running room in the stretch, was a closing fourth. The trio of long shots produced a $2 trifecta worth a tidy $4,405.80. Mary's Follies, a Kentucky-bred daughter of More Than Ready, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in stakes-record time of 1:41.73. "She was really breathing fire today," Desormeaux said. "This one really seems to have found herself on the turf. We beat a very good bunch of proven horses. She is just a very nice filly."
Get Stormy got to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds and held on to win by a nose over Street Move. Grizzled Robert was third at a price. Get Stormy, a Kentucky-bred Stormy Atlantic colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.67 with Javier Castellano up. It was the fourth straight win for Get Stormy. "He's moved up a lot," said winning owner Mary Sullivan. "And now he's going to have a rest before his 4-year-old year. He's done well enough to go home and take it easy for a while."
Palladio rallied from last to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Autumn Stakes by 2 lengths over Awesome Rhythm. Pool Play was third and the favorite, Teide, finished fifth. Palladio, a 7-year-old, Florida-bred son of Lycius, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.74 with Richard Dos Ramos up. Eye of the Leopard, Ice Bear and Stunning Stag were late scratches. "Usually, he runs his best race when I can keep him covered up as long as I can," Dos Ramos said. "There was just a little hole at the top of the lane and I was hoping he didn't hesitate. He didn't and when I got through, I knew it was all over." Palladio pushed his career earnings past the $1 million mark with the victory.
Carem Crescent battled to the lead at mid-stretch in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then barely held off Milwaukee Appeal to win by a neck. Not Just a Rumor finished third. Carem Crescent, an Ontario-bred Distorted Humor filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.18 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons. "I was worried," said Da Silva, "because she wanted to go to the lead and it was hard to relax her. In the turn, she relaxed a little bit and she just fought very hard."
Cascading bid for the lead midway around the turn in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and coasted home first, winning by 1 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Roan Inish was second and Jenny's So Great finished third. Cascading, a Kentucky-bred daughter of A.P. Indy out of the Storm Cat mare Teeming, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.05 under Patrick Husbands. "She broke sharp and I just wanted to get her as relaxed as possible," Husbands said. "Today, I could have done anything with her. I was trying to keep her really focused."
Calder Race Course
Too Many Toyz won a stretch battle with odds-on favorite It's A Bird in the $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic, scoring by 1 length. Dream Maestro finished third. Too Many Toyz, with Carlos Olivero up, ran the 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:54.88. The winner is a 6-year-old son of Northern Afleet. "Of course, the horse to beat was It's A Bird," Olivero said. "And I was very worried when he made the lead and slowed the pace down. But I had confidence in my horse and I knew if I put him in position he would give me an honest effort."
In other races on Saturday's eight-stakes card for Florida-breds:
Sweet Repent ran past pace-setting favorite Jessica Is Back with a furlong to go in the $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Jessica Is Back held second easily, 9 3/4 lengths to the good of Even Road. Sweet Repent, a 3-year-old daughter of Repent, facing older fillies and mares, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:46.74 with Manoel Cruz up. "She had been training very well and the owners give her plenty of time between races," said winning trainer Dave Braddy. "So, I don't want to sound cocky … but I had a lot of confidence in her going into this race. She beat some nice fillies and mares today."
Wild Mia rallied four-wide down the stretch to win the $100,000 John Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf by 1 length over Dancing Rage -- both of them at odds of better than 24-1. Wild Mia, a daughter of Wildcat Heir, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.53 over firm turf.
Hear Ye Hear Ye took charge in the stretch to post a 20-1 upset in the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Good to Be Seen. The odds-on favorite, Mr. Green, ran evenly to finish third. Hear Ye Hear Ye, by Hear No Evil, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.39.
Carphonic survived a rough start in the $150,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies stakes, then came four-wide around the field and won by 3 lengths over Joanie's Catch. Sweetlalabye finished third. Carphonic, by Lion Heart, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.57.
Bim Bam got the first run at the leaders in the $100,000 Arthur I. Appleton Juvenile Turf, then held off odds-on favorite Family Foundation to win by 1 length. Show the Way finished third. Bim Bam, a Deputy Wild Cat colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.73.
Pashito the Che dueled down the lane with Prince Joshua in the $150,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap before prevailing by a neck. Little Neck was third. Pashito the Che, a 3-year-old Flatter colt running against older horses, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.44 under Eibar Coa.
Soldier's Dancer, the odds-on favorite, performed to expectations in the $150,000 Bonnie Health Turf Cup, rallying wide around five rivals to win by 1/2 length. Pickapocket finished second and Mean Sax was third. Soldier's Dancer, a 5-year-old Lost Soldier gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.91 with Manoel Cruz in the irons.
Bestdressed trailed the field into the turn in Saturday's $75,000 On Trust Handicap for California-breds, came four-wide to challenge in the stretch and drew clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Enriched was second and the favorite, Star Nicholas, finished third. Bestdressed, a 5-year-old gelding by Lit de Justice out of the Black Tie Affair mare Undressed, got the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:27.65 under Joel Rosario.
U R All That I Am took charge in the stretch run in Sunday's $75,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap for state-bred distaffers, drawing clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Smooth Performer, Bootleg Annie and Gambler's Justice completed the order of finish. U R All That I Am, a 3-year-old Valid Wager filly, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:28.78 for jockey Joel Rosario.
In Sunday's New York Stallion Stakes:
Uncle T Seven rolled down the lane to win the $75,000 Thunder Rumble Division for colts and geldings by 4 3/4 lengths over Mr. Windjammer. Uncle T Seven, a 3-year-old Freud colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:23.28 under Ramon Dominguez.
Fanny Freud took charge in the stretch in the $100,000 Fifth Avenue Division for 2-year-old fillies, drawing off to win by 5 lengths over Raffie's Rose. Fanny Freud, a daughter of Freud, got the 6 muddy furlongs in 1:11.15 with Rajiv Maragh riding.
Ruffino stalked the pace in the $75,000 Cormorant Division for colts and geldings, then got by Pretty Boy Freud in the late going to win by 3/4 length. Ruffino, a 5-year-old Raffie's Majesty gelding, ran 1 mile on the sloppy main track in 1:34.72 for Maragh. The race originally was carded for 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Mother Russia was quickly on the lead in the $75,000 Staten Island Division and never challenged, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over Christina's Gold. Mother Russia, a 3-year-old Mayakovsky filly, ran 7 furlongs in the slop in 1:23.34, toting Ramon Dominguez.
Make Note got by the leaders on the inside in the stretch run of the $100,000 Great White Way Division for 2-year-old colts and geldings and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Out of Respect was second. Make Note, a Read the Footnotes colt, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.39 for Edgar Prado.
Desert Wheat started last of 12 in Saturday's $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes for Louisiana-breds, worked his way forward approaching the stretch and finished best of all to win by 2 2/4 lengths over Nowandforevermore. Lee's Spirit was a long shot third and the favorite, Classy Deelites, faded to finish 10th. Desert Wheat, a 6-year-old son of Wheaton, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles of firm turf in 1:45.01. Corey Lanerie rode for trainer Bill Mott.
Dextera launched a bid turning into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Chandler Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and got home first, 3/4 length ahead of Dash Dot Dash. Woody's Bluff finished third. Dextera, a German-bred Royal Dragon filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.34. David Flores had the mount for trainer James Cassidy.
Quindici Man caught Feisty Suances near the wire to win Saturday's $50,000 Jack Coady Sr. Stakes for 3-year-olds by a nose. C S I Iowa finished third. Quindici Man, a Kentucky-bred Came Home colt, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35/24 under Glenn Corbett.