June 23, 2009

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta highlight Saturday's coast to coast racing

Rachel Alexandra's mini-break is over at six weeks, as Steve Asmussen will send his Horse of the Year leader postward in Saturday's Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont Park . Likewise, Zenyatta will be taking her second step in 2009 towards Horse of the Year honors in the $300,000 Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the same race this mare claimed last year during her perfect 9 for 9 campaign. Although, she'll be carrying 3 more pounds at 129 than last year's running under the handicap weight assignments, which are intended to level the playing field. This weight represents the most a mare has carried in a race since three-time Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom champion Azeri carried 127 pounds in the Vanity's 2003 edition.

We're getting close to the point where Zenyatta's trainer John Shirreffs will begin playing cat and mouse games with racing secretaries across the country prior to entering her in competition, as is the unfortunate case with racing greats. This happened with Curlin more than once last season and certainly plagued Cigar during his 16 race winning streak during his 1995-96 season when he routinely was assigned from five to twenty pounds more than his rivals (hence his nose defeat to Skip Away).

Back to superwoman, aka "Rachel." Belmont racing officials were thrilled to hear the news last week that she was to be entered in the Mother Goose. They have parlayed this good fortune into offer free admission to all women for Saturday's racing card, as well as giving out free "Rachel Alexandra" pink wristbands for the first 10,000 attendees. Not that it matters... last year when Curlin made his much anticipated start on the Belmont lawn in the Man o'War Stakes, the best the Elmont, NY track could draw was 8,400 patrons on a day when parking and admission was free - PATHETIC!!

If Jess Jackson truly is interested in racing Rachel "for the fans" as he proclaimed repeatedly last year with Curlin, he would race Rachel in a city where fans still care about the NAME of a horse instead of their saddle cloth number (ever been to a Manhattan OTB?). Take for example, Arlington Park, where over 34,000 fans - not seasoned horsemen - pounded the turnstiles to see Cigar tie Citation's consecutive win record at 16 in 1996. Or even (I can't believe I'm even saying this...) Monmouth Park in New Jersey, which drew over 40,000 to their first (and likely last with unpredictable weather) Breeders' Cup Saturday a couple of years ago. Hell, they even drew nearly 30,000 for that Friday's Breeders' Cup supplemental card (with a few newly added "also ran" races) when it was raining cats and dogs all day!

But I digress. The point is that this will be a great summer Saturday afternoon to head out to your local race track with kids or friends in tow to witness dual perfection. I'll be making the short 15 mile trek west to Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, TX, which is still in live racing mode, but heaven forbid if you have to visit your local "OTB" (it's all good).

Happy Racing!

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