When Persistency passed Rachel Alexandra just before the finish line of the grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga Sunday, it was a disappointment for nearly everybody in racing. After Rachel Alexandra’s dominating performance in the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park last month and a series of sparkling works leading up to the Personal Ensign, the hope was that Rachel Alexandra was regaining some of the form that made her the 2009 Horse of the Year.
But perhaps most disappointing, is that any race between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta now seems unlikely at best. Zenyatta is now scheduled make her next start in the Zenyatta Stakes Oct. 2 during the Oak Tree meeting before heading to Churchill Downs in a effort to repeat her 2009 victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. No announcements have come out of the Rachel Alexandra camp as to her next race, but a meeting with Quality Road, Zenyatta and Blame may not be in her best interest.
For that racing has failed. Racing has failed its current fan base, but perhaps more important, it may have missed the opportunity to present one of the great races of our era in Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta and a field others. A match race was never a real possibility, despite the $2 million once offered by “Matress Mac” Jim McIngvale and Sam Houston Race Park. The deep differences in the two running styles of the great mares, with Rachel Alexandra and her fondness for the lead and the typical late rallies by Zenyatta, never made a match race realistic.
Credit must be given to those that tried to get Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra together in the same race. Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella came the closest to producing the race early this year by offering to make the grade 1 Apple Blossom a $5 million race if both ran. At one time, dates were changed and commitments from both camps were made. But Rachel Alexandra was unexpectedly defeated in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds preparing for the Apple Blossom. The day after the New Orleans Ladies, trainer Steve Asmussen announced that Rachel Alexandra would not run in Mr. Cella’s “Race For the Ages.”
The New York Racing Association also made several legitimate bids to create the race. Last fall track management offered to increase the purse of the $600,000 Beldame to $1 million if both stars started in the October race at Belmont Park. Zenyatta trainer John Shirreffs said, "We'll have to see the calendar and how it works out. It's something to consider." And that was about as close as the race came to materializing in the Beldame.
It also has to be mentioned that Santa Anita’s synthetic racing surface must shoulder some of the blame for hindering the possible dream race. The most likely race for both mares to meet last year would have been in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. But Jess Jackson, principal owner of Rachel Alexandra refused to run her on “plastic.”
Whether the reason be racing surfaces, schedules, personalities or just bad luck is inconsequential. It’s just a shame we could not have seen this race at some time in the last two years.